British Columbia

'An amazing pilot and flight instructor': Friends remember aviator who died in Gabriola Island crash

The pilot of the plane that crashed on Gabriola Island on Tuesday night has been identified by friends as Alex Bahlsen, an experienced aviator with his own flight school. 

Alex Bahlsen 'loved flying. That was his passion,' says one business associate

Alex Bahlsen pictured in Alberta's Kananaskis Country. Alex Bahlsen's friends say he was the pilot of the small plane that crashed on Gabriola Island on Dec. 10. (Tim Dwyer)

The pilot of the plane that crashed on Gabriola Island on Tuesday night has been identified by friends as Alex Bahlsen, an experienced aviator with his own flight school. 

Bahlsen, 61, was headed back to Canada from Mexico when the Piper Aerostar he was flying crashed on the island, just east of Nanaimo, B.C.

Authorities have yet to confirm how many people were on the plane or any of their identities, but did confirm that all occupants were killed in the crash, which happened around 6 p.m. PT.

The BC Coroners Service and Transportation Safety Board are on Gabriola investigating Wednesday.

Business associates and friends say Bahlsen, who was originally from Germany, had moved from Calgary to Vancouver Island in the past year and often flew Twin Beech float planes out of Mill Bay, where he lived with his wife.

It's believed she was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, at the time of the crash.

The pilot of the plane has been identified as Alex Bahlsen, 61. (Facebook)

Kasper Naef says he first met Bahlsen in 1995 when he was training to fly in Alberta.

"He loved flying. That was his passion," said Naef, who said he and Bahlsen went on to start a manufactured home park together called Creston Estates.

"He was just a nice guy, to everybody. Very generous. He was a rich man but he never bragged about it or anything," said Naef.

He said Bahlsen is the grandson of Hermann Bahlsen, the founder of a German baked-goods empire famous for its Leibniz brand of biscuits.

Bahlsen, who had been living in Canada for about 30 years, built his life as a pilot and an instructor and even worked directly for Transport Canada as a flight test examiner for a period of time.

He flew small aircraft from float planes to helicopters. Bahlsen also owned a flight school on a property with his own personal runway at a business called A.J. Flying Ranch in Cayley, Alta.

That's where Rasmus Rydstrøm-Poulsen met Bahlsen.

RCMP at the crash scene after a small plane went down on Gabriola Island on Tuesday night, killing everyone on board. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

"He was such a unique, crazy person in the best way," said Rydstrøm-Poulsen. "He's an amazing pilot and flight instructor and overall human and German. And so cool. Just really knowledgeable and kind and funny," he said.

Bahlsen was known for using his plane, instead of a car, to fly to places like High River, Alta., if the snow was too bad.

Rydstrøm-Poulsen says he flew with Bahlsen many times — including several times in the plane that crashed on Gabriola — and is convinced there must have been a technical issue to bring down such an experienced pilot.

"He was always up for an adventure. He had this laid-back German accent, like … 'I do exactly what I want my way.' He's kind of one of those alpha guys you just want to follow around until the end of the world."


  • 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 5:45 PM PT

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. or on Twitter or Instagram @ybrend