It could take awhile to fully determine what caused a Piper PA-23 twin engine airplane to crash in Vernon Saturday.
The aircraft took off from Vernon Airport shortly after 1 p.m. and crashed seconds later into neighbouring Marshall Field, bursting into flames upon contact with the ground.
The crash killed pilot James Langley, 59, of Kelowna, the registered owner of the airplane, and his passenger, Karim Makalai, 53, of Port Moody.
“These investigations typically take a year,” said Bill Yearwood, regional manager for aviation with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. “We’re supporting the coroner, and our report will be part of the coroner’s final report. If there’s anything we uncover that’s an immediate threat to aviation safety, we’ll release that information and make recommendations.”
Yearwood, who was in Vernon for 24 hours to investigate the accident site and the aircraft, said there were several facts that were immediately known.
Officials know the pair stopped in Vernon to refuel the aircraft, and they know which direction the plane took off from the airport.
The plane, said Yearwood, appeared to be operating normally on takeoff.
“The takeoff run and profile was somewhat abnormal, in other words there was a long run and a steep climb then a bank, which is abnormal for that aircraft but not abnormal for some high-performance aircraft,” he said.
“At the end of that bank, it continued until the aircraft struck the ground. Tragically, it hit hard enough and burst into flames.”
Ron Mack, an amateur photographer from Salmon Arm, was at the former Lakers Golf Course clubhouse, preparing for his nephew’s wedding.
He was going out to his vehicle to retrieve more items for the wedding when he heard the sound of a plane sputtering.
“I saw the nose of the plane pointing in the air and I couldn’t believe it,” said Mack.
“The plane seemed to stall, then the nose came down. The pilot seemed to recover but the wing caught a small tree. It cartwheeled and landed on its belly, and when it did that, it erupted into fire.”
Mack ran and got his camera and started snapping away. He got a photo of two unknown men trying in vain to put out the plane’s fire with fire extinguishers.
“They sure put in a valiant effort,” said Mack of the unidentified men.
The fire destroyed a lot of the plane’s structure and covering, but Yearwood said there was still enough of the engines and parts of the propellers for investigators to have a look at.
Yearwood said the plane was quite an old aircraft, built in 1958, and did not describe it as a high-performance aircraft.