Gabriola Island witness describes horrific plane crash

Fatal crash pilot identified

UPDATE 2:55 p.m.

Friends and family have now identified Alex Bahlsen as one of the victims in the fatal Gabriola Island plane crash. Bahlsen is reportedly an accomplished pilot, instructor and former examiner with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

The 61-year-old was reportedly flying his own Piper Aerostar plane back from Mexico when the crash occurred.

UPDATE 2:11 p.m.

We now know that three people were killed in a small plane crash Tuesday night on Gabriola Island off the coast of Vancouver Island, close to Nanaimo.

CTV News Vancouver Island is reporting that the plane was a twin-engine Piper Aerostar, which took off from Bishop Airport northeast of Fresno Calif. but crashed as it was making its approach to the Nanaimo airport.
Bishop Airport manager Steve Loven tells CTV News the plane may have simply stopped at Bishop to refuel after the flight originated elsewhere. He said the plane may have "self-served" at the airport's fuel pumps.

Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board and the BC Coroners Service's Special Investigations Unit remain on the scene.

UPDATE: 10:40 a.m.

A plane that one witness describes as crashing in a "huge explosion" that left multiple people dead in British Columbia has been identified as a twin-engine propeller aircraft.

The BC Coroners Service and the RCMP confirm there were multiple fatalities when the small plane went down around 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday on the northwest corner of Gabriola Island, near Nanaimo.

Flight-tracking website FlightRadar24 lists the aircraft as a six-passenger Piper Aerostar which was on a flight from California.

Dave Holme said he saw the plane hurtle toward the ground and ran to look for survivors.

"I saw the plane spiralling toward the ground. The engines were going ... but they didn't sound normal," Holme recalled Wednesday.

"About five houses down from us, I saw it nose-dive into the ground, and then the explosion was just immense ... all the houses completely shook."

Holme said he ran into the bushes at the crash site and yelled to see if anyone was alive and able to respond.

"I was probably within, I'd have to say, five feet of the fuselage ... and just fire — all around me, the ground was literally on fire.

"I saw the rear end of the plane sticking out of the ground. ... I couldn't see any wings. Part of the motor was on one part of the property and the other part of the motor was over on the other side of the property. It hit with such force, it just disintegrated the plane."

Three investigators from the Transportation Safety Board were expected to arrive at the crash site today.

RCMP spokesman Cpl. Chris Manseau said the area where the plane went down is primarily a residential neighbourhood but police were not aware of any injuries on the ground.

Manseau said he understands that BC Ferries was contacted soon after the crash and a scheduled supper-hour trip to the island was held back to allow more emergency service personnel to board and get to the crash site.

ORIGINAL: 6:20 a.m.

The BC Coroners Service and police have confirmed multiple fatalities in a plane crash off the east coast of Vancouver Island.

Coroners Service spokesman Andy Watson said a small plane crashed on the northwest corner of Gabriola Island around 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

"The BC Coroners Service has also been notified of multiple fatalities and is in the preliminary stages of its fact-finding investigation to determine who died, and how, where, when and by what means the deceased came to their sudden, unexpected deaths," he said in a statement.

RCMP spokesman Cpl. Chris Manseau said the crash will be investigated by multiple agencies including the Transportation Safety Board.

Sophie Wistaff of the Transportation Safety Board said three investigators will be on site Wednesday morning to begin gathering information to determine what happened.

Few details were immediately available about the size or type of the plane or the number of passengers.

RCMP and BC Coroners Service said they would not be releasing any further information on the crash Tuesday night.

Bette Lou Hagen, who lives in the area, said she was reading a novel when she heard "like a loud sonic boom or something."

"I heard a loud engine — it didn't sound like a car engine — but it was really shaking my house and then I heard a loud crash and then I don't how much later it was I heard an explosion," she said.

She went outside but could not see much because the area has a lot of trees, and then called the police.

The plane crashed about 50 metres from her backyard, she said.

"It was pretty awful. I'm still shaking."

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