5 dead in plane crash east of Edmonton

Five people died when an airplane owned by an Edmonton engineering company crashed Friday, exactly five months after the pilot's father was killed in another plane crash.

Pilot's father died in B.C. plane crash on Oct. 28

Five employees died when a small airplane owned by an Edmonton engineering company crashed Friday, exactly five months after the pilot's father and another company executive were killed in a plane crash in B.C.

Reagan Williams, left, was piloting the plane that crashed near Wainwright, Alta., on Friday. His father, Allen, right, was killed when he crashed his plane in October. ((A.D. Williams Engineering))

The wreckage was located Friday at about noon MT, about 12 kilometres northeast of Wainwright, Alta., RCMP said. Police and military officials searched for more than four hours before spotting the downed plane on the shore of the Battle River, several hundred kilometres southeast of Edmonton.

"Unfortunately, all five have been confirmed deceased," RCMP Cpl. Darren Anderson told CBC News from Edmonton.

The plane, a single-engine Piper PA-46, was being piloted by company president Reagan Williams, said Sue O'Connor, a spokeswoman for A.D. Williams Engineering.

The wreckage of the A.D.Williams Piper Malibu lies in a wooded area northeast of Wainwright. ((RCMP))

Two of the other victims were identified as Phil Allard, the company's chief financial officer, and Rhonda Quirke, another company executive.

O'Connor said the two other victims, both contract employees, were not being named at this time.

The plane was en route to Winnipeg from Edmonton's City Centre Airport when it disappeared from radar at 8:12 a.m. The five employees were planning to attend a meeting at the company's Winnipeg office.

"It's devastating," O'Connor said. "You just can't wrap your head around it, that this tragedy has happened to the same firm, to the same family — it's inconceivable."

Williams was experienced pilot

Williams, 40, a father of one, had commercial and private pilot licences and regularly flew the firm's aircraft.

He took over the company after his father, Allen Williams, 65, was killed when he crashed his Cessna 172 in rugged terrain near Golden, B.C., on Oct. 28.  

Searchers found Allen Williams's three-year-old granddaughter, Kate, safely strapped into a child seat in the upside-down plane's wreckage. She was the only survivor of the October crash.

Reagan Williams was the girl's uncle.

The company's chief financial officer, Steven Sutton, 49, was also killed in the October crash.

Rescue crews at a site 12 kilometres northeast of Wainwright work to recover the bodies of five people who died in a plane crash Friday morning. ((CBC))

Officials did not speculate on the cause of Friday's crash.

"We know the aircraft was experiencing some difficulties," said John Pearson of the Transportation Safety Board. "[The radar] showed the aircraft with some erratic behaviour.

"All we know is there was some deviation from a normal flight path before it went off the radar. We'll be gathering maintenance records for the airplane, and any witnesses in the area that may have seen something will be interviewed as well."

'It's an incredibly difficult time for the firm'

As investigators search for a cause, the engineering firm is trying to help employees through the tragedy.

O'Connor said Naseem Bashir, the firm's vice-president, was travelling to Edmonton from Calgary to take control.

"It's an incredibly difficult time for the firm, for the families and friends, and obviously, for the staff," O'Connor said.

"The staff are coming together to support each other, and the firm will be bringing in counsellors as soon as possible."

The leadership team was just getting going after the deaths in October, she said.  

At a memorial service after his father's death, Reagan Williams had lauded Allen Williams for saving his niece by strapping her in.

"My dad was an amazing pilot and the fact that he was able to save Kate was the amazing thing," he said.

With files from the Canadian Press