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Nanaimo plane crash claims former Vernon resident

Gerald Thom, a former Vernon resident, died in a plane crash in Nanaimo on the weekend. - Malcolm Chalmers photo
Gerald Thom, a former Vernon resident, died in a plane crash in Nanaimo on the weekend.
— image credit: Malcolm Chalmers photo

Chris Bush

Black Press

A former Vernon resident was among two men who died when their small aircraft crashed on Vancouver Island.

The fatal mishap happened at about 7 p.m. Saturday as the small, home-built amphibious plane was taking off from Nanaimo Airport.

Michael Cyril Weir, 73, from Saltspring Island, and Gerald Paul Thom, 50, of Youbou, died in the crash. Thom graduated from Vernon Secondary School in 1981.

“The aircraft stalled on take-off and crashed upside down on the fairway,” said Ron Gueulette, chief of Cranberry Volunteer Fire Department.

Firefighters used the Jaws of Life to remove the victims from the plane before it was transported to a secure shelter at Nanaimo Airport later that night for inspection.

Bill Yearwood, Transportation Safety Board regional manager for aviation accident investigations and investigator in charge of Saturday’s crash, was told by witnesses the craft lifted off, then appeared to suddenly lose altitude before making a sharp left turn.

“It then made a very steep decent, nose-down, and hit the ground,” Yearwood said.

The plane crashed near the 14th hole of Cottonwood Golf Course, close to the airport and golf course property line.

Trent Kaese, golf course owner, said there were golfers on the 13th and 15th holes, but fortunately no one playing near where the craft impacted.

“Fourteen happened to be empty and (the crash) was off to the side in the rough too, so it wasn’t a critical spot, possibly, even if someone had been on the fairway,” Kaese said.

“Obviously we’re just concerned for the families. That’s the sad part of it.”

Yearwood said the Avid Amphibian aircraft was owned by the two men on board and that they had built the craft together on Salt Spring Island.

It had been based at Nanaimo Airport since December.

“The aircraft is a two-seater flying boat and it’s powered by an air-cooled, Volkswagen four-cylinder engine that has been modified for aviation use,” Yearwood said.

Yearwood went on to say he found no obvious cause for the crash during his initial inspection Sunday, but by the condition of the propeller it appeared the aircraft was not under full power when it struck the ground. Investigators will contact the engine manufacturer to see if they will take part in the engine inspection, disassembly and testing to determine if the crash resulted from engine power loss.

Yearwood said he has a number of witness statements, compiled by RCMP members on the scene, to sift through, but is also interested in seeing any video footage from anyone who might have been filming at the time and happened to catch the incident.

Nanaimo Airport staff is also reviewing surveillance camera footage.

Mike Hooper, Nanaimo Airport president and CEO, said the aircraft owners were members of the Nanaimo Flying Club.

“Our thoughts are out with the families,” Hooper said.

“What we’ll do is reach out to all of the people involved and see if we can help somehow to work through the challenges and process.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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