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Update: Three saved after float plane accident on Thomas Lake, north of Maple Ridge

Plane from Fort Langley Air that operates out of Pitt Meadows Airport
Survivors of a float plane accident along Thomas Lake can be seen sitting on top of the plane. (Department of National Defence/Special to The News)

Three people were rescued after a float plane crashed on Thomas Lake, just north of Alouette Lake, within the boundary of Golden Ears Park.

The accident happened about 8:40 a.m. on Monday, June 28 and involved a sea plane from Fort Langley Air, that operates out of Pitt Meadows Airport.

Ridge Meadows RCMP attended along with BC Air ambulance, who hovered nearby to provide assistance, while the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC) based in Esquimalt, BC, quickly activated rescue procedures along with Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) Search and Rescue technicians.

A Cormorant R906 and a Buffalo R462, both responded to the scene, explained Lt. Pamela Hogan, spokesperson for the Department on National Defence, noting that the accident was initally witnessed by a Cessna 172 who notified the Vancouver Area Control Centre who, in turn, relayed the call for help.

The C182 floatplane flipped while attempting to land on the lake, said Hogan, and the Cormorant extracted the pilot and two passengers who were found sitting on the pontoon of the overturned plane.

All three were transported to Pitt Meadows Regional Airport, arriving at 10:36 a.m., where they were assessed by BC Emergency Health Services.

The trio had sustained only minor injuries but were transported to hospital as a precaution, explained Sgt. Amanda Harnett with the Ridge Meadows RCMP.

“It’s an ongoing accident investigation,” said Andy Blacker, chief pilot with Fort Langley Air.

“All I can say is the three occupants are safe and well and back in Pitt Meadows,” he said.

Blacker confirmed the Transportation Safety Board will be investigating the accident and Fort Langley Air will be supporting their investigation.

READ MORE: Two in hospital after float plane crashes in Okanagan Lake

Thomas Lake is approximately 25 kilometres north of Alouette lake and is only accessible by air. It is a popular destination for fly fishing.

READ MORE: Pilot was among victims in float plane crash near Port Hardy, sister confirms

Chris Georgas, an aviator with more than 60 years of experience flying along the West Coast, said the float plane pilot made an uninformed decision to fly into an alpine lake given the temperature and humidity.

Georgas, who lives in Sechelt but flies daily to Pitt Meadows Airport where he owns hangars, wrote an email Monday evening to all 14 of his pilots who store their aircraft with him, warning them not to fly for the rest of the week because of the current weather conditions.

Airplanes like the cold, explained Georgas, because the molecular structure of the atmosphere is tighter and dense. During the heat, airplanes fly poorly because the molecular structure of the atmosphere is looser and more spread out, increasing the density altitude.

At Thomas Lake, he said, the altitude is approximately 3,000 feet and the air is thinner.

“The heat makes it thinner and the humidex only worsens the circumstances,” noted Georgas.

And, with three people on the plane, the load was heavier.

“The plane did not have enough air to actually allow it to undertake a controlled landing and basically the aircraft just crashed into the lake,” said Georgas.

Additionally, even if they had been able to land safely, Georgas added, there is no way they would have been able to take off again, unless conditions improved dramatically by cooling down.

“This heat wave is still extreme overnight,” he noted. “They would have been marooned there. For certain.”

Fort Langley Air offers a combination of float plane pilot training, seaplane ratings, bush pilot certification, pilot u-fly seaplane packages, custom charters and tours of the B.C. west coast.

They have been training pilots for more than 30 years.

Ridge Meadows RCMP noted the early police investigation suggests impaired operation is not a factor and there is no indication of a criminal offence.

“To watch our BC EHS and Canadian Armed Force’s quick response time and actions on this incident has been very inspiring and our hats are off to them. This is a fantastic example of how our provincial multi-jurisdictional agencies all work together and, at the end of the day, we had a successful rescue operation and we are very glad this incident did not turn out much worse,” said Harnett.

Environment Canada is engaged and Ridge Meadows RCMP will continue to liaise with the Transportation Safety Board in their investigation, she added.

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Colleen Flanagan

About the Author: Colleen Flanagan

Colleen Flanagan is an award-winning multimedia journalist with more than 15 years experience in the industry.
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