British Columbia·Photos

'The whole sky just turned red': Witnesses recount plane crash on B.C.'s Gabriola Island

It was dark and foggy and Gabriola Island resident Natalie Konosh was driving on a quiet road when she first saw the twin engine plane above. Konosh glanced up again and noticed the plane was going straight down behind the trees. 

Residents rushed to crash site Tuesday evening, desperate to find survivors

Gabriola Island resident Natalie Konosh saw the plane go down on Tuesday while she was driving and describes seeing the whole sky turn red after the crash. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

It was dark and foggy and Gabriola Island resident Natalie Konosh was driving on a quiet road when she first saw the twin engine plane above. 

At first, nothing looked unusual. Konosh adjusted her gaze back on the road, but then glanced up again at the plane and saw it was going straight down behind the trees. 

"A couple seconds later I saw the whole sky just turned red," she said, still visibly shaken 24 hours after the crash. 

Around 6:10 p.m. on Tuesday, a Piper Aerostar crashed into the island's northwest corner in a bushy park area. Gabriola Island is one of the Gulf Islands in B.C.'s Strait of Georgia and can only be accessed by float plane, boat or a 20-minute ferry ride from Nanaimo. 

The scene of a small plane crash on Gabriola Island, B.C., is shown on Wednesday, Dec.11, 2019. A plane that one witness describes as crashing in a "huge explosion" that left multiple people dead in British Columbia was identified as a twin-engine propeller aircraft. (Paolo Gastaldello/The Canadian Press)

It's a quiet community with just over 4,000 residents. And at that moment, nearly everyone was alerted to the sights and sounds of the crash. 

The day after, residents recalled how the plane sounded low, the deafening explosion, and then the flames — quickly followed by the sound of emergency vehicles. 

While there was relief no one on the ground was hurt, there was sadness for those killed. 

 

The island is lined with dense forests of evergreen trees and on Wednesday it offered that iconic West Coast feel with drizzling rain and low fog hanging over the rural community. 

Margaret Moar lives a few houses from where the plane crashed. "I heard the plane going over and my perception was that it was really low," she said.

"Everyone we talked to in the neighbourhood said first thing they thought: that's awfully low ... it sounded like it was in trouble. Then next thing you know it's down and we heard a big explosion and you look out and saw flames."

Margaret Moar has lived on Gabriola Island for 10 years and says she never expected anything like this to happen near her home. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Some of the neighbours ran out of their homes. David Holme found himself in the middle of the crash site, in his slippers surrounded by fire, desperate to help. 

"You're just looking for survivors. You're looking for any signs of life and I couldn't find anything," Holme said.

Officials have confirmed there were no survivors, but have not said how many people were on the plane. 

CBC News has learned through friends that the pilot was Alex Bahlsen, an experienced aviator with his own flight school. 

An RCMP officer steps behind the yellow police tape. The crash site has been blocked off from all sides. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

The BC Coroners Service and the RCMP have confirmed there were multiple fatalities. 

The RCMP cordoned off the crash site, not allowing anyone near the scene, which some eyewitnesses described as having "debris everywhere." 

Access to the crash site was blocked off even from the beach. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

Gabriola Island's volunteer firefighters arrived six minutes after the plane spiralled to the ground. 

Fire Chief Will Sprogis said the plane crashed in "one of the most densely populated areas in the island," but somehow managed to land in the only small park there. 

"Best case scenario in an incident like this, just missing two houses," Sprogis said.

While residents are grateful that no one on the ground was injured or killed, there is sorrow for the loss of life.

"A lot of people are just sad, they're shocked. It's not something that happens very often and it's hard to take," said resident Georgette Duhamie.

Fire Chief Will Sprogis points to where the plane crashed, at the tip of the island in a wooded residential area. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tina Lovgreen

Video Journalist

Tina is a Video Journalist with CBC Vancouver. Send her an email at tina.lovgreen@cbc.ca

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