The two Mount Royal University aviation instructors killed in a plane crash west of Calgary Monday night have been identified as Jeff Bird and Reynold “Reyn” Johnson by the school.
UPDATE: GoFundMe set up for Calgary plane crash victim’s kids as investigation continues
“Jeff Bird was an experienced pilot who joined Mount Royal University as a class 3 flight instructor for Mount Royal’s aviation program,” president David Docherty said Tuesday afternoon, adding Bird had 1,800 hours of flying experience.
READ MORE: Flight instructors killed in plane crash near Calgary were experienced pilots, says Mount Royal University president
Docherty said prior to joining the Mount Royal team, Bird was a pilot instructor with the Royal Canadian Air Force stationed in Moose Jaw, Sask.
“He spent 10 years in the military,” Docherty said. “He brought that wealth of experience and his love of teaching to Mount Royal.”
In a statement from Brian Dunsterville, Acting Wing Commander of 15 Wing Moose Jaw, Byrd was remembered as an “extremely committed and valued Royal Canadian Air Force pilot and officer.” The statement said he served as a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan.
“While Jeff was undoubtedly a dedicated pilot and officer, he will be most remembered as a proud family man, whose true love was his family,” the statement went on to say.
Johnson had a 35-year career in aviation with Air Canada and then Jazz and is an alumnus of the University of Lethbridge, the university said in a statement Tuesday night.
Bird was also a helicopter pilot in Edmonton with the 408 squadron, Docherty said.
“We’ve spoken with the family and can tell you they are understandably heartbroken.
“It is very, very tragic because these are individuals who—flying is their life and they wanted to teach others to fly and fulfill their dreams, so it’s been very, very difficult.”
Watch below: Mount Royal University President David Docherty says they are working on a memorial for the pilots killed in a plane crash west of Calgary
Docherty said there will be a “pop-up memorial” for students and others to lay flowers and leave “expressions of love” so that students can get together and celebrate the lives of the two pilots, in concert with their families.
“We are a community and we surely showed ourselves to be a true community today with our students, our instructors and everyone across campus standing strong to support each other,” Docherty said, holding back tears.
Watch below: Mount Royal University President David Docherty thanks the community and university for their support
Docherty said the program will continue and both students and instructors will get back in the plane when they’re ready to fly.
“That’s the reason for the voluntary grounding of the fleet,” he said. “We’re taking our cue from the instructors and students.”
The president said the 30-student program is a close-knit community, with many living together in residence. Docherty said he met with the students as a group earlier on Tuesday and called their support “remarkable.”
“There was a lot of handholding, there was a lot of sitting in circles and talking,” he said, adding school counsellors were in attendance. “So the tough part is that they feel the loss personally. But they’re bonding together to make sure everyone will get through this and they’re so supportive of each other. It was incredibly touching.”
Docherty said the program will continue, but the university is willing to extend the academic year for students to reach their required number of instruction hours if necessary.
Watch below: Mount Royal University President David Docherty says students are banding together in the wake of the death of two instructors
Cochrane RCMP were first alerted to the crash at around 5:55 p.m. Monday by a witness in another aircraft who saw a plane crash east of Highway 40 in the Waiparous area.
The small passenger plane was later located in a remote area northwest of Cochrane, near Highway 40 and Highway 579.
Students who are looking for counselling can make appointments at the Wellness Centre (U216). To make individual or group appointments, call 403-440-6362.
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Staff, however, are asked to call Homewood Health at 1-800-663-1142.
Transportation Safety Board of Canada launches investigation
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is investigating the crash. In a phone interview with Global News, spokesperson Johnathon Lee said it could be days before they’ll be able to release any details on what happened.
Lee said they have secured radar of the flight path from NavCanada, and are in the process of reviewing it. He confirmed the plane left from the Springbank Airport but said it’s not known how long the plane was in air before the crash.
With files from Global News