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

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3

World Farm Animals Day, Drink Beer Day and Virus Appreciation Day are all coming up this week

Kelowna man injured during arrest sues RCMP

Supreme Court civil claim alleges Dustin Blondin was the victim of an ‘unprovoked attack’

United Way celebrates seven decades of impact in Southern Interior

Organization sees issues with poverty, mental health and addictions, heighten during the pandemic

Okanagan rental housing market facing challenges due to COVID-19

The impact on real estate markets remains a wildcard

Two new COVID-19 cases reported in Interior Health

The total number of Interior Health cases since the beginning of the pandemic is now at 522

B.C. records 98 more COVID-19 cases, most in Lower Mainland

One new senior home outbreak, Surrey Memorial outbreak over

PHOTOS: Ghost sighting in Vernon’s Polson Park

Mom and daughter photoshoot brings joy and laughter to bystanders

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

PHOTOS: 2nd calf in a month confirmed among Southern Resident killer whale pod

Center for Whale Research said they will eagerly await to observe the calf to evaluate its health

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Parks Canada not responsible for Mount Kobau blockade

Nearby residents have been vocal about plans to turn the area into a national park

97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized from farm in Princeton

RCMP assisted as BC SPCA executed search warrant

$250K reward offered as investigation continues into Sea to Sky Gondola vandalism

Police also asking for specific footage of Sea to Sky highway around time of incident

Most Read