The pilot killed in Tuesday’s crash on B.C.’s Gabriola Island is being remembered for his charity work with an animal rescue organization.
In addition to being an experienced pilot and supporter of the Western Canadian aviation community, Alex Bahlsen also offered his time — and his aircraft — to a group that transports rescue animals.
Shelly Loree with PNPC Animal Rescue said Bahlsen loved animals almost as much as he loved the sky.
“There’s two things that I know about him that he loves. The first one would be flying, for sure. The second one would be animals,” she said.
“He not only flew some of these animals for us, he would foster for us … he really was worth his weight in gold.”
The organization is a registered charity that works with private pilots to arrange flights for rescue animals either to rescue groups, or to their forever homes.
Many of the animals are dogs, but Loree said the group had also arranged transport for a variety of animals, including turtles and rescued wildlife such as owls.
Loree said she knew of at least six flights Bahlsen had done to transport animals in need, but added that there may have been more.
He was involved in flights between Winnipeg, the Calgary area and the Lower Mainland, she said.
Lorree added that once Bahlsen had committed to a job, he wouldn’t back down — even if circumstances made it tougher.
She recounted one case where he’d agreed to transport a dog named Guinness from Alberta to Vancouver, when the weather turned sour.
“He decided, ‘No, I will come. I will be there at a certain time at the Airdrie Airport’ … I explained to the foster mom how to get into the airport, what to expect, what this plane looked like,” she said.
“So she waited and waited. And she didn’t see a plane. But all of a sudden a helicopter landed. And there was Alex in the helicopter and he said, ‘Okay, I’m ready to take him in, as I can’t fly to Vancouver today. The weather is not great. I’m going to fly tomorrow.’
“And so he took Guinness, fostered him that night. And then the next day he traveled in his plane to Vancouver.”
Bahlsen was one of three people who died when his 1982 Piper Smith-Aerostar went down on the Gulf Island just off the coast of Nanaimo, B.C.
The other two victims have yet to be identified. Sources tell Global News Bahlsen reported instrument failure shortly before the crash.
Loree said Bahlsen’s death will leave a hole in the community, describing him as “my go-to pilot” thanks to his genuine love of animals and collection of planes that could handle the mountains in a variety of weather conditions.
“It was a delight to fly with him,” she said. “I would I would have done it again and again and again if I had the opportunity.
“You didn’t have to know Alex for very long to know that he was a very friendly, a very generous, very, very genuine person.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article identified Shelly Loree as working with “Pilots N Paws Canada Animal Rescue. In fact Pilots N Paws is a trademarked name, and PNPC Animal Rescue is not affiliated with the U.S. non-profit rescue organization Pilots N Paws.