RCMP officers and members from the coroner’s office walk into the dense woods near the scene of a small plane crash on Gabriola Island, B.C., Wednesday, Dec.11, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

B.C. plane crash victim identified; witnesses describe ‘explosion’

He was a flight instructor, charter pilot and owned an airstrip before leaving Alberta

Friends are identifying a kind, caring and skilled pilot among those killed in a plane crash on Gabriola Island.

Alex Bahlsen was born in Germany and moved to Cayley, Alta., around 30 years ago, Rasmus Rydstrom-Poulsen said Wednesday.

About a year ago, he moved to Mill Bay, B.C., to live with his wife.

“He was a kind, caring, very intelligent, adventurous and fun guy — very talented,” said Rydstrom-Poulsen, who is in contact with Bahlsen’s family.

Flying was a passion for Bahlsen, who was a flight instructor, charter pilot and owned an airstrip before leaving Alberta.

He was also a proud grandfather and “very good friend,” who kept up with the latest technologies, he said.

The BC Coroners Service said members of its special investigations unit arrived on the island Wednesday to begin their work to determine the identities of those who died and the circumstances that led to their deaths.

First responders received reports of a possible plane crash shortly after 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

The BC Coroners Service and the RCMP confirmed there were multiple fatalities when the small plane went down in a wooded residential area, creating a “significant” debris field.

The Transportation Safety Board says it is investigating the crash of a piston twin-engine aircraft that was flying from the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport in Bishop, Calif., to Nanaimo.

“The aircraft was extensively broken up due to high impact forces,” the board said in a news release, adding its investigation team was unable to determine the aircraft registration on Wednesday but it will work to continue verifying that information on Thursday.

“The total number of people on board has not been verified and no one on board has been identified,” the board says.

It says the aircraft was on a private-pleasure flight. The plane was in the process of conducting an instrument approach to the airport in Nanaimo when the crash occurred, the board said.

Gabriola Island, which has a population of about 4,000, is a 20-minute ferry ride east of Nanaimo.

Michael Tumbach, manager at NXT LVL Motors Inc. in Cayley, said Bahlsen would let the company host private car racing events on the airstrip in Alberta.

“Alex would actually shut down his airstrip and let us drag race on it,” he said.

Bahlsen was a generous man and always invited guys from the shop into his house, he said.

“He was always willing to help out and make sure everyone else had a good time.”

The shop took care of Bahlsen’s personal vehicles, including a snow plow for the strip, Tumbach added.

A witness to the crash described a plane hurtling toward the ground and a “huge explosion.”

Dave Holme said he 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.

READ MORE: Process to identify those killed in Gabriola plane crash could take days

READ MORE: No survivors in Gabriola Island plane crash

READ MORE: ‘A loud sonic boom’: Gabriola Island residents recount fatal plane crash

“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.”

The plane crashed in thick brush and scorch marks were visible on trees in the area of the crash, which is near a beach.

Rick Mayes said he lives near the crash site. He said he did not see the plane go down but felt the impact.

“It shook my house so hard that I thought it was an earthquake,” said Mayes. “It was unbelievable.”

Cecil Hagen said he grabbed his flashlight and went to look outside after hearing what sounded like a loud thump followed by an explosion on Tuesday night.

“It hit hard. It was really loud,” he said.

Hagen said he got in his car and drove to where he thought the noise came from and saw flames shooting more than a metre high in the nearby trees.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 11, 2019.

— By Amy Smart in Vancouver, with files from Steve Lambert in Winnipeg and Dirk Meissner on Gabriola Island.

The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Letter: Allen Way rail crossing proposed in 1980

Pitt Meadows mayor at time wanted it at north Bonson.

Maple Ridge group gives back to northern places

Teaching how to grow in isolated First Nations reserves

Maple Ridge school hosts FIRST LEGO competition

Students build and program LEGO MINDSTORMS to find solutions to city landscape designs

Votto, Morneau want Hall of Fame recognition for Larry Walker

Larry Walker’s number will be retired on April 19 at Coors Field

Slideshow: Maple Ridge’s winter wonderland waterways

PHOTOS: Water and wildlife at the Alouette River, Fraser River and Whonnock Lake

Closed mills, housing surge support a positive forecast for lumber industries

B.C. lumber producers have closed mills accounting for 18% of province’s capacity, RBC report says

Good Samaritan pays part of rent for B.C. woman facing eviction in can-collecting dispute

Zora Hlevnjak, 76, supplements her pension by collecting cans and receiving public donations

Should winter tires be mandatory in the Lower Mainland?

ICBC dial-a-claims go up as winter storm takes toll

Canada Post driver in hospital after ice smashes windshield at Massey Tunnel

Incident happened on Richmond side of the Massey Tunnel

Abbotsford bank ATM robbery thwarted by woman standing her ground

Police arrest alleged known robber running down South Fraser wearing balaclava

Kelowna’s ‘Baby Mary’ finds biological parents after more than 30 years

Geneologist and DNA test helped her connect with her biological parents

Fire truck, police car hit in chain of crashes on Hwy. 99

‘People weren’t paying attention,’ says Surrey assistant fire chief

Kelowna hotel to award couples for baby-making with Nooner deal

The deal includes a free stay every Valentine’s Day for the next 18 years

Most Read