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

A fundraiser for the Falkland Community Church is underway. (Photo submitted)
COVID-19 leaves Falkland Church in a lurch

Annual event/major fundraiser cancelled for first time in 34 years

Advance polling saw nearly 10,000 votes cast in Vernon-Monashee. Pictured: Schubert Centre. (Jennifer Smith - Vernon Morning Star)
Almost 10,000 turn out to Vernon-Monashee advance polls

19 per cent of 52,479 registered voters have made their mark in B.C. election

Members of the Armstrong Lions Club have planted a red Canadian maple tree at Lions Park on Hunter Avenue as a show of tribute to their sister club in Banbridge, Northern Ireland. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)
Armstong Lions Club salutes sister club with tree

Red Canadian Maple planted in Lions Park pays tribute to Lions Club in Banbridge, Northern Ireland

The Community Foundation has teamed with the Canadian Mental Health Association and horse-assisted therapists to bring horse therapy to frontline worker battling the COVID-19 pandemic free of charge. (Contributed)
Okanagan organization says ‘thanks’ to COVID-19 frontline workers with complimentary horse therapy

Community Foundation teams with CMHA and equine therapists to offer unique mental health supports

COVID-19. (Courtesy of CDC).
Interior Health reports 12 additional COVID-19 cases

The total number of cases in the region is now at 644

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. (B.C. Government photo)
Kelowna Francophone school COVID-19 outbreak climbs to 5, mixture of students and staff

Health officer says situation evolving, spoke to possible closure, changes to provincial guidelines

Actor Ryan Reynolds surprised a Shuswap family with a special birthday message to their son who was worried he’d be alone on his 9th birthday on Nov. 24. (Tiffanie Trudell/Facebook)
Ryan Reynolds text almost gives away Shuswap boy’s birthday surprise

Deadpool actor helps remind eight-year-old Canoe resident he’s not alone

Colin James put on a great show at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds as part of the 2019 Vancouver Island MusicFest. But his Okanagan tour for 2020 has been postponed until 2021. (Photo by Terry Farrell)
COVID-19 cancels Corb Lund’s Vernon, Penticton, Trail, Cranbrook concerts

The Contenders, Colin James and Lund postponed until 2021

RCMP detachments across B.C. are now flying Pride flags. (Submitted photo)
Man who spent 4 days injured on floor rescued by Kamloops Mountie

The man is recovering in hospital after being rescued by a police officer conducting a well-being check

Vancouver police reactivated the search for Jordan Naterer Thursday Oct. 22. Photo courtesy of VPD.
Mom of missing Manning Park hiker believes her son is waiting to come home

‘He’s going to come out of a helicopter and say ‘what took you so long?”

Environment Minister George Heyman, Premier John Horgan and Energy Minister Michelle Mungall announce that B.C. Hydro is proceeding with construction of the Site C dam, Dec. 11, 2017. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)
Site C actions, costs won’t be known until after B.C. election, Horgan says

Peace River diverted for construction of reinforced dam base

Five people with alleged ties to the Red Scorpion Gang are facing numerous charges. (Kelowna RCMP)
5 men linked to Red Scorpion gang charged with gun, drug offences in Kelowna

Police seized a machine gun as well as 5.5 kilograms of fentanyl and carfentanil

Most Read