Craig Evanoff knew Keith Buchanan from the time they were 10-year-olds, ski racing together on the slopes of Purden Mountain.
Evanoff was devastated by the news that Buchanan died Tuesday morning flying a helicopter that crashed near the ski hill 60 kilometres east of Prince George.
Evanoff and Buchanan were the same age, 63, and they shared a love of the outdoors that kept their tight bond intact.
They started flying together for forestry work when Evanoff needed to work in places where there are no roads. Evanoff and his wife Bonnie Hooge opened an adventure tourism business and during the time of year when Purden Ski Village was shut down for the season they relied on Buchanan’s piloting skills to fly in hikers and backcountry skiers to their base at Dezaiko Lodge in the McGregor Mountains.
And no matter what they did, when Evanoff and Buchanan got together there was never any shortage of laughter.
“Whenever I think about Keith, and I have so many pictures of him, he’s got a big smile on his face, I don’t recall ever seeing Keith unhappy,” said Evanoff.
“Every trip I did with Keith was fun. Not only did I work with him at the lodge but in forestry work, I spent a lot of time in the helicopter with Keith and it was just fun. I had lots of good times with him.”
Keith’s uncle Bob Buchanan (who died in May) and his aunt Lucy were part of the shareholder group with Lloyd Mear and Dean Knight that got the ski hill started in June 1968. Evanoff’s dad George was a ski patroller at Purden and they had a cabin on the lake. From the time he was a young teenager, Keith was learning how to operate the chair lift and how to work on every piece of equipment needed to keep the alpine resort open.
“Keith set his mind to things and he got things done,” said Evanoff.
“He decided he wanted to fly helicopters and he took the training and went through everything that was required to get a job. Then he decided he wanted to own a ski hill and he just worked away at it and bought up shares until he owned it. He just buckled down and did it, and I’ve never met anybody like that. The things that he did, it wasn’t a job, he enjoyed what he did.”
Flying was how Buchanan made his living, especially before the snow came, and he loved being a pilot, a job he held for 40 years.
“I thought he was one of the best pilots I’ve ever flown with and he was totally at home in a helicopter,” said Evanoff. “Because he was so experienced he was always relaxed and he made whoever he was flying with feel relaxed because of that.”
Buchanan never owned a smart phone, relying instead on his low-tech flip phone. Quiet, friendly and unassuming, his strong suit wasn’t his administrative skills. But he was a natural-born mechanic who knew how to fix practically anything and he enjoyed doing the practical hands-on outdoor work while his wife Michaela handled the office/kitchen/housekeeping duties that went into running the ski hill and RV park and the helicopter company. They bought Purden Lake Resort with its log cabins and RV park as a couple after they got married and together they set a fine example for their kids, Blake and Cheyenne.
Keith started his own helicopter company, Buchanan & Son Aviation, and named it soon after Blake was born 22 years ago. Evanson said the thought behind the name was inspired by Keith’s dad Frank, a logger and construction contractor, who ran F.O. Buchanan & Sons.
Tuesday’s crash also claimed the life of Jerry Edwards, owner of Grizzly Forest Management of Prince George.
The Transportation Safey Board of Canada is still investigating what happened just after 7:30 a.m. when Buchanan, Edwards and four other forestry workers contracted by Canfor took off in Buchanan’s Bell 206L helicopter from the base at Purden Lake Resort. It went down in a forested area not far from the launch site. The four other passengers were not seriously injured.
Evanoff worked with Edwards conducting silviculture surveys and has known him for several years.
“I don’t know any of the details but I’m thinking Keith and Jerry would have been in front because Jerry would have had all the maps out telling them where to go, and Keith was obviously flying,” said Evanoff. “The other four would have been in the back and obviously the back is the safer place to be in when the machine goes down.”
Edwards, 56, leaves behind his wife Keri and two sons, Brayden and Tanner.