British Columbia

23-year-old construction worker killed in Kelowna crane collapse leaves behind family, fiancée

Cailen Vilness, 23, was one of four construction workers who lost their lives at an industrial incident in downtown Kelowna on Monday.

'There's not a lot of pictures that you won't see Cailen smiling,' says father

Cailen Vilness, 23, of Kitimat, B.C., is one of four contractors who died after the collapse of a construction crane in downtown Kelowna on Monday. (Submitted by Chris Vilness)

Cailen Vilness is being remembered by his family as a hard worker with a ready smile, following his death in a tragic crane collapse in downtown Kelowna, B.C., on Monday.

Vilness, 23, was one of four workers killed on the construction site of the 25-storey Brooklyn at Bernard Block condominium tower after the construction crane they were preparing to dismantle fell to the ground just before 11 a.m. on Monday.

The fifth man killed by the falling crane was working in an office building next door.

Cailen Vilness's father, Chris Vilness, says he received a call from his ex-wife around 12.30 p.m. Monday, who told him there had been an industrial accident where Cailen worked. Vilness said he immediately flew to the Okanagan from Kitimat in northwestern B.C.

Vilness said he felt something serious might have happened when Cailen didn't answer his phone after the incident.

Cailen — who had worked on the crane for a year — died on his first day back to work after returning from a trip to visit family in Kitimat, where he grew up.

"He has had a bit of experience assembling that crane," Vilness told CBC's Dominika Lirette. "Unfortunately, that was his first day back … made a half of a shift and then was tragically killed."

"That was probably the worst feeling [that] ever had run through me at that time."

WATCH | Chris Vilness remembers his son Cailen Vilness:

Father of Kelowna crane collapse victim remembers son as a hard worker

2 months ago
Chris Vilness says his son Cailen was a 'really good kid.' 1:40

Vilness said his son was an outgoing man with strong bonds to his family and an excellent work ethic.

"Cailen was extremely caring, loving … there's not a lot of pictures that you won't see Cailen smiling," he said. "He enjoyed spending time with his family … even if he wasn't as qualified as he may sometimes think, he figured that there was no task that he couldn't take on and be successful."

"He was a really good kid," Vilness said, sobbing.

Vilness left university to pursue a career in the construction industry. (Submitted by Chris Vilness)

Cailen dropped out of university and followed his father's and brother's career path to work in the construction industry. He bought a house with his fiancée and would have taken possession next month.

"That [construction work] was his passion," Vilness said. "Coming back to dismantle that crane, he was excited about that."

"They were 200-plus feet in the air, and he had no fear."

Cailen Vilness had no fear working at great heights, says his father Chris Vilness. (Submitted by Chris Vilness)

Vilness said a memorial service for his son will be held this weekend in Kelowna, and another service will be held later in Kitimat.

Everton Weekes, senior pastor with the Living Faith Miracle Centre in Kelowna, says his church — where Cailen's mother attends services and volunteers — is organizing a fundraiser for the Vilness family to cover funeral costs and other expenses.

"I've been a pastor now in Kelowna for 20 years, and I've never seen this type of pain all my time of pastoring," Weekes said Thursday to Chris Walker, the host of CBC's Daybreak South. "This has been very difficult for the entire community." 

Vilness said he will miss his conversations with Cailen. They last talked on Sunday.

"I talked to him almost every single day between 4:30 and six on his way home from work or the way home from the gym — that was just kind of our thing.

"I'm going to have to find someone else to talk to," he said.

Tap the link below to hear Dominika Lirette's conversation with Chris Vilness on Radio West:

Cailen Vilness was 23 when he lost his life in a tragic crane collapse in downtown Kelowna. Dominika Lirette speaks with his father, Chris Vilness 11:23

Tap the link below to hear Pastor Everton Weekes's interview on Dayrbeak South:

The pastor who provides comfort for the family of one of the victims of the deadly crane collapse in Kelowna is helping to raise funds to cover funeral costs and unexpected expenses. 7:33

With files from Dominika Lirette, Brady Strachan and Daybreak South