North

Air Tindi pilot remembers best friend who died in N.W.T. plane crash

They went to the same aviation school in Ontario, then moved up North to work for Air Tindi together in March 2016. Gabriel Vianna says his roommate was a 'once-in-a-lifetime kind of friend.'

'We decided to come up together and try and live our dream,' says Gabriel Vianna

Zach McKillop, left, died on Jan. 30 after an Air Tindi plane crashed near Behchoko, N.W.T. His friend, colleague and roommate Gabriel Vianna is on the right. The two went to the same aviation school in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and moved up to Yellowknife together in March 2016. (Submitted by Gabriel Vianna)

Gabriel Vianna says if it wasn't for his best friend Zach McKillop, he probably wouldn't be a pilot in Yellowknife.

​It was March 2016 when the eager young men moved up north together to embark on their careers — flying for a small airline as pilots for the first time.

They had recently graduated from the Sault College aviation program in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and McKillop had found out that Yellowknife-based Air Tindi was hiring. He called Vianna.

"He knew I wanted to fly float planes, and Air Tindi had Twin Otters which was the plane I wanted to fly," said Vianna.

"So we decided to come up together and try and live our dream." 

I've never known a more witty, sarcastic, and deeply caring person in my life.- Matthew Saul , McKillop's friend

Last Wednesday, McKillop died on the job — leaving his best friend, roommate and colleague heartbroken.

McKillop moved to the N.W.T. in 2016 to work for Air Tindi after graduating from aviation school in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (Submitted by Lindsay McKillop)

When an Air Tindi charter flight crashed near Behchoko, N.W.T., on Jan. 30, McKillop and Will Hayworth died on impact, according to a Transportation Safety Board initial assessment. The plane was flying to Whati from Yellowknife and the pilots were the only people on board.

Hayworth was 36 years old. McKillop, from Sudbury, Ont., had just turned 28 that day.

Vianna describes their friendship as a case of opposites attracting. 

"He would call me the extrovert and himself the super introvert. He had a few close friends in Yellowknife, but the ones he did have, he loved and we loved him back."

'He cared and knew more about people than anyone else,' says friend Matthew Saul. (Submitted by Gabriel Vianna)

McKillop loved watching documentaries, was "obsessed" with the colour orange, and was a remarkable beach volleyball player, he added.

Above all, Vianna said his friend always had his back.

"We had to do two years loading bags into planes," said Vianna, who described how it takes time on the ground to get to fly as a pilot.

"I can thank Zach for a lot of days that I would talk to him about being almost depressed ... He would always be there to say some witty remark and make me smile, and make me go another week." 

Vianna said eventually, the two had plans of living and working in Vancouver, going on hikes together on days off.

"He was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of friend," he said.

"His dream was then to get to the [bigger] airlines, which he almost [had]," said Vianna. "It's not fair that he wasn't able to live that part of his dream."

As a child he was this sweet, gentle boy and as an adult he turned into this charismatic, adventurous man.- Lindsay McKillop , Zach McKillop's sister

McKillop was successful in a long and gruelling interview process with Air Canada's Jazz airline, and was waiting for a date to start ground school training.

"We were all sad he was going to be leaving," said Vianna. "I never expected him to leave us like this though."

Friend Matthew Saul said he and McKillop shared a love for the outdoors and some local brew from The Woodyard. (Submitted by Gabriel Vianna)

"I've never known a more witty, sarcastic, and deeply caring person in my life," said Matthew Saul, a friend and fellow Air Tindi pilot. "I looked up to him like a big brother." 

McKillop was the kind of person that had all of his friends' birthdays memorized, said Saul. He recalled a time when McKillop took care of a friend sleeping over on his couch. 

"When my friend woke up in the morning, Zach had plugged in his phone, got him a glass of water, a bowl of chips and a Gatorade," said Saul.

"He cared and knew more about people than anyone else."

Saul said the two shared a love for the outdoors and some local brew from The Woodyard. 

"We spent the last three years becoming as close as brothers," said Saul. "I'll never forget your laugh, your sarcastic banter, or the friendship that you brought me."

'Sweet, gentle' brother joining dad in heaven

McKillop, left, with his dad. 'I know they are together again [in heaven], drinking beer, watching sports,' says Zach's sister Lindsay McKillop. (Submitted by Lindsay McKillop)

Lindsay McKillop, McKillop's sister, said her brother was the most thoughtful, caring person — always the first to wish others a happy birthday.

"As a child he was this sweet, gentle boy and as an adult he turned into this charismatic, adventurous man," she said, in a Facebook message to CBC.

She said her big brother took after their dad with his love for beer and sports.

"I know they are together again [in heaven], drinking beer, watching sports and eating chicken wings."

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