British Columbia

Pilot of fatal floatplane crash was 'safety-oriented' man, sister says

Al McBain, a pilot with 15 years of experience, was one of four people who died Friday after the floatplane he was flying crashed into remote, uninhabited Addenbroke Island. McBain was a 'fastidious, safety-oriented pilot,' his sister says.

'Alan promised me this would never happen,' laments Nathalie Chambers, who questions call to fly that day

Pilot Al McBain, 59, died in a Cessna crash last Friday north of Vancouver Island. The wreckage was found on remote Addenbroke Island. (Colin Laker/Facebook)

Nathalie Chambers has barely slept since her 59-year-old brother's death Friday in a floatplane crash off B.C.'s Central Coast.

She says she is heartbroken that she must now tell her mother, who lives in a Victoria nursing home, that she has lost one of her three children.

Alan (Al) McBain, a pilot with 15 years of experience, died after the Seair Seaplanes floatplane he was flying crashed on remote Addenbroke Island, around 100 kilometres north of Port Hardy.

Three other people aboard the flight from Richmond bound for Calvert Island died, while five survivors remain in hospital. Transportation Safety Board investigators are on site assessing the wreckage of the Cessna 208.

"My brother Alan was born to fly. This flying aviation thing runs in my family," said Chambers, 49, on Monday, noting her father's 30-year career in the air force.

The Victoria resident said her brother was beloved. He once flew her young son over his birthday party on Island View Beach as a surprise, she said, adding that he ran marathons, biked to work, and loved his golden retriever, Barkley.

"He was funny and charming. He was very handsome. And when he was smiling the whole world would light up," she said, recalling how he was once mistaken for actor Tom Selleck on a Hawaiian vacation.

Al McBain was an experienced pilot who was strict about safety, says his sister. (Facebook/Nathalie Chambers)

As a pilot, McBain was strict about safety, she said.

Sometimes, when taking off along the West Coast, he complained about the low visibility .

On Friday, Chambers had been camping in the Walbran Valley on Vancouver Island's west coast, and said she had been caught in a sudden storm with heavy wind and rain. She is convinced that her brother experienced the same unseasonable weather while flying further north.

'Fastidious, safety-oriented pilot'

Chambers wants to know who approved the flight, which was bound for Ole's Fishing Lodge on Calvert Island, which is just west of Addenbroke Island.

"My brother was the most fastidious, safety-oriented pilot. As my dad was in the military for 30 years, I was a military kid. I grew up worrying about my dad flying all my life. Alan promised me that this would never happen," said Chambers, sobbing.

"I want to know who made the call and said that it was OK for him to fly."

The TSB team on Addenbroke Island are expected to give an update soon on what they've discovered at the site.

Of the five survivors, who were flown to hospital Friday night, three were last reported to be in serious but stable condition, while two were in stable condition. None of the survivors or other victims have been identified.

Al McBain was an experienced floatplane pilot, whose father was a military pilot with the 442 Squadron in Victoria. (Al McBain/Facebook)

Statements from Seair, fishing lodge

Seair Seaplanes issued a written statement about how the company is trying to help family during this "difficult time."

"We can confirm Al McBain has been a pilot with the Seair family for over 15 years. Out of respect for loved ones and emergency response authorities, Seair is not in the position to comment on the identities or status of any of those involved in the accident," it said.

Ole's Fishing Lodge, a family-run business in B.C.'s Inside Passage, released a statement Monday.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with our guests and their families," the emailed statement from owners Sari and Keith Olsen said.

"We have no details to provide at this time, to allow our guests and their families time to process this tragedy."

Online tributes

Co-pilots and friends of McBain posted numerous tributes over the weekend.

"I'll always remember Al's grinning welcome, his professionalism, impeccable appearance and his genuine interest when he asked what you were up to lately. Al made you feel important even among your peers and nothing could make you like a guy more than that," wrote Bill Gillies.

McBain had lost a pilot friend a few years ago in an accident, which had left him shaken and even more careful, said his sister. He was close to retirement, when he planned to fly in the Maldives, Chambers said.

McBain, the younger of Chambers' two brothers, was born in France, where his father was stationed, before the family moved back to Canada. Chambers said McBain was an amazing brother, escorting her to her own graduation, and was very involved with her son and daughter.

Their father, Maj. James Herald McBain, died in 1987 after a 30-year career in the Royal Canadian Air Force, Chambers said. Toward the end of his career he flew for the air force's 442 Squadron out of Comox — the same squadron that flew in to try to rescue people from McBain's aircraft on Friday.

Chambers said her father died of a heart attack before collecting his first pension cheque. Now she has to explain to her mother that she has lost a son, as well.

Nathalie Chambers as a teen was escorted by her older brother Al McBain to graduation. (Nathalie Chambers)


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?