British Columbia

Pilot killed in B.C. plane crash ID'd as Alex Bahlsen

The pilot killed in a twin-engine plane crash in southwest B.C. on Tuesday night has been identified as flying instructor Alex Bahlsen.

Bahlsen was flying his Piper Aerostar over Gabriola Island when it crashed

The Transportation Safety Board said there is a 'significant debris field' at the site of Tuesday's crash on B.C.'s Gabriola Island. (Paolo Gastaldello/The Canadian Press)

The pilot killed in a twin-engine plane crash in southwest B.C. on Tuesday night has been identified as flying instructor Alex Bahlsen.

Bahlsen, who had also worked as an examiner with Transport Canada was flying his Piper Aerostar, a twin-engine propeller aircraft, over Gabriola Island when it crashed into the island's northwest corner around 6:10 p.m. PT. Several friends confirmed his death to CBC News on Wednesday.

The BC Coroners Service and RCMP both said there were no survivors from the crash, though it hasn't yet been confirmed how many people were aboard the small plane.

The coroner said there were "multiple" fatalities, but gave no numbers and no further details about the plane or its flight path.

Residents rushed to the scene in an effort to help after impact. They gathered in the dark, on standby, as first responders began flooding the area.

First responders were called to the island around 6:30 p.m. PT on Tuesday. (CHEK News)

Randi Lynch was wide-eyed as she watched. She was walking through her yard when she saw the plane spinning above her cottage around 6 p.m.

"All of a sudden, I heard some weird noises and the plane was turning around, spinning, out of control … and in two minutes it was down, and there were flames and explosions. It was terrible," said Lynch, her voice shaking.

Alex Bahlsen's friends say he was the pilot killed in the crash. The plane pictured here is not the Piper Aerostar involved in the crash. (Facebook)

Lynch said a neighbour told her the aircraft was in "shards."

More than a dozen first responders were called to the northwest end of the island following the crash. Additional RCMP officers and at least four extra ambulances were also dispatched to the island by ferry.

The TSB is leading the investigation. A statement Wednesday confirmed three TSB investigators were expected to arrive by noon on the island, located just off the city of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.

The TSB said later there is a "significant debris field" at the site and that the aircraft was "extensively broken up due to high impact forces." The flight was a private or pleasure flight that left from Eastern Sierra Regional Airport in Bishop, Calif., and was headed to Nanaimo. 

The aircraft was conducting an instrument approach — a series of manoeuvres to prepare for landing — to touch down on Runway 16 of Nanaimo Airport when the crash happened.

The TSB said the total number of people on board has not been confirmed, and it may take several days to identify the deceased and notify their families.

Watch: First responders at the site of a plane crash on Gabriola Island

Video shows fire crews on the scene near the site of a plane crash on Gabriola Island., B.C. 0:43

The crash site is being cordoned off by RCMP until TSB officials arrive. RCMP Cpl. Chris Manseau said no one on the ground was injured in the incident.

Bette Lou Hagen lives one property away from the crash site. She said her home shook when the plane made impact. 

"It sounded so loud that I jumped. My deaf husband jumped up — he can hardly hear, and he was out of his seat. We rushed outside, and we could hear people yelling. It was the loudest crash I've ever heard in my life."

Gabriola Island is one of B.C.'s Gulf Islands, which are clustered in the Strait of Georgia between the mainland and Vancouver Island. 

Paramedics and other first responders attend the scene of the crash. (CHEK News)

"This isn't something that our officers see very often in their careers and definitely not [common] for the people who live on that island," said Cpl. Manseau, who works out of the B.C. RCMP's headquarters in Surrey. 

"Most people go to that island for tranquillity and peace and quiet, so to have a plane crash literally in your own backyard is going to be scary for a lot of people there."

With files from Rafferty Baker, Meera Bains, Megan Batchelor, Yvette Brend, Michelle Ghoussoub, Lien Yeung and The Canadian Press

Resident Randi Lynch heard the plane crash near her home. (CHEK News)

Corrections

  • In an earlier version of this story, Bahlsen was misidentified as a former Transportation Safety Board examiner. In fact, he was with Transport Canada.
    Dec 11, 2019 5:32 PM PT

About the Author

Rhianna Schmunk is a staff writer for CBC News. She is based in Vancouver with a focus on justice and the courts. You can reach her on Twitter @rhiannaschmunk or by email at rhianna.schmunk@cbc.ca.