N.W.T. pilot dies after plane film shoot

A pilot has died in hospital after being struck by the wing of a low-flying airplane in Fort Good Hope, N.W.T.

26-year-old was living his dream, mother says

William Bleach, seen in an undated photo, died Sunday at an Edmonton hospital after being struck in the head by the wing of a low-flying light plane. ((Facebook))
RCMP and federal transport investigators in Fort Good Hope, N.W.T., are trying to determine how a 26-year-old pilot was hit by a wing of a low-flying plane late last week.

William James John Bleach died Sunday in an Edmonton hospital, after he suffered head injuries while filming a single-engine Cessna 207 aircraft on Thursday night, RCMP confirmed in a release.

Originally from Ontario, Bleach was working in Fort Good Hope — a Mackenzie River settlement about 800 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife — as a pilot for North-Wright Airways Ltd., which flies people and freight between eight communities in the Northwest Territories using a fleet of 21 small aircraft.

"He has always loved anything to do with airplanes," his mother, Marilyn Bleach, told CBC News on Tuesday.

"I know many times he'd call home and, you know, he said little things like, 'Oh, Mom, I'm living my dream out of a suitcase.'"

Marilyn Bleach said her son also loved being in the North, where he had been based for about 2½ years, adding that he often took his camera with him.

Low-level photo shoot

Transport officials said Bleach was standing on the airport's tarmac, filming the plane with a video camera as part of a photo shoot, when the aircraft flew low and its right wing clipped his head.

RCMP were called to the scene at around 8 p.m. MT, by which time nurses were already treating the injured man. Bleach was taken to the Fort Good Hope health centre, then transported by air ambulance to Edmonton. He was taken off life support over the weekend.

"He was a big guy, about six-four. He was very helpful.… He was a great pilot," Douglas Louison, who worked with Bleach at the airport, said Monday. Louison described Bleach as soft-spoken and "very easy to get along with, very friendly."

'It's a criminal investigation'

The incident occured in Fort Good Hope, a remote N.W.T. community about 800 kilometres northwest of Yellowknife.
Along with Transport Canada, the RCMP major crimes unit and the Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission of the Northwest Territories are investigating.

"It is a criminal investigation," RCMP Sgt. Wayne Norris told The Canadian Press on Tuesday.

"At the end of the investigation, if there are grounds to lay charges, if there is enough evidence to believe his death was related to any kind of criminal activity, then charges will be laid. It hasn't been ruled out at this point."

RCMP say the pilot of the Cessna, who was not identified, knew Bleach.

"It is my understanding that they did know each other, but I can't comment on how well or if there was a professional relationship," Norris said.

Managers at North-Wright Airways were not available for comment on Tuesday.

Organs donated

Marilyn Bleach said her son's death was a senseless tragedy, but she is trying to see beyond it. She said Bleach's heart has been donated to a transplant patient in Edmonton, while his liver helped a patient in Ontario and his kidneys went to a patient on the East Coast.

"My attitude — and Bill had the same attitude — is that you try not just to make sense out of tragedy, but something good has to come of it as well," she said.

"There are the people that received his organs on Sunday — you know, those are miracle days for those people."

A Facebook group, "In loving memory of our dear friend William Bleach," had 328 members as of late Tuesday afternoon.

With files from the CBC's Allison Devereaux and The Canadian Press