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‘A very highly skilled pilot’: Victim identified in Gabriola Island, B.C. plane crash

Pilot in Gabriola plane crash identified
WATCH: Small aircraft goes down on Gabriola Island

One of the victims of a fatal plane crash on B.C.’s Gabriola Island has been identified as a pilot and former flight instructor.

Colleagues and friends have identified one of the people aboard as Alex Bahlsen.

“He was an amazing man, he was very, very kind, he was a very talented flight instructor and teacher, and I know he was a grandfather,” Rasmus Rydstrøm-Poulsen told Global News.

It remains unclear if Bahlsen was the pilot.

READ MORE: Multiple deaths reported after plane crashes on northern Gabriola Island, B.C.

The Bomber Command Museum of Canada said Bahlsen, who owned the AJ Flying Ranch near Cayley, Alta., about an hour south of Calgary, was a “good supporter” of its events, which he would host and often donate fuel to.

Albertan identified as victim in B.C. plane crash
Albertan identified as victim in B.C. plane crash

Museum director Karl Kjarsgaard called Bahlsen a “pilot’s pilot” who was trained as both an aerobatic pilot and a helicopter pilot.

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“He had his own twin-engine airplane, he had antique planes, and he lived on a ranch acreage northeast of Nanton with his own airstrip,” said Kjarsgaard.

“He could have done anything in life he wanted to. But what he wanted to do was fly.”

Multiple deaths reported after plane crashes on northern Gabriola Island, B.C.
Multiple deaths reported after plane crashes on northern Gabriola Island, B.C.

Kjarsgaard said Bahlsen had emigrated from Germany to Canada more than three decades ago, and also had properties on the west coast and in Mexico, which he used his aircraft to fly between.

“The entire community’s lost a friend,” said Kjarsgaard. “We just send out our condolences to the family.”

Officials say the plane went down around 6:30 p.m. on the northwest tip of Gabriola Island, which is about 20 minutes by ferry from Vancouver Island.

Canadian Press
Canadian Press Canadian Press

The number of people on board remains unclear, but the BC Coroners Service has confirmed there were multiple fatalities and no survivors.

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A spokesperson for the BC Coroners Service said it could take several days before the number of fatalities or details about the victims were revealed.

“Identification specialists, in co-ordination with the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) and RCMP, are gathering information from the scene to establish the identities of the decedents,” said spokesperson Andy Watson in an email.

“Confirmation of the number of deceased and their identities will occur once identification has been definitively established and their family members have been notified.”

The TSB spent Wednesday afternoon at the crash site, and said that “the aircraft was extensively broken up due to high impact forces.”

The agency confirmed the plane was a private flight, which had departed from the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport in Bishop, California and was heading to Nanaimo.

An online flight tracker showed it circling several times over Gabriola Island before disappearing. The tracked plane was a Piper PA 60 Aerostar.

Flight tracking website FlightAware lists Alex Bahlsen as the registered owner of a 1982 Piper Smith-Aerostar 600 with the registration CFQYW.

“The aircraft was in the process of conducting an instrument approach to Runway 16 of Nanaimo Airport when the collision with terrain occurred,” said the TSB.

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David Holme lives on Gabriola, and told Global News he ran to help when he heard the plane go down.

READ MORE: Fatal northern B.C. plane crash happened 3 hours into mapping flight, says TSB

“It was circling above us, I saw it go straight down into the ground. A massive explosion,” said Holme.

“Probably within a minute of the crash I was at the crash site, looking for survivors.”

Several residents described a plane that appeared to be flying low and reported feeling their houses shake when it went down.

Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board, the RCMP and the BC Coroners Service were on site Wednesday.

-With files from Brad MacLeod