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

Blue River Community Garden celebrates construction of screened-in gazebo

Volunteer fire department donates time and expertise to the job

Back in Time

Historical Perspective

Food bank doing well thanks to volunteers and donations

Chair applauds staff for stepping up in time of turmoil

COVID-19 highlights lack of connectivity in First Nations communities

Many don’t have access required to utilize online platforms, says First Nations Technology Council

BC SPCA team helps discover new feline virus after outbreak at Quesnel shelter

Fechavirus is a kind of parvovirus, which makes cats and kittens very sick

B.C. records four new COVID-19 cases, Abbotsford hospital outbreak cleared

Four senior home outbreaks also declared over, eight still active

RCMP, coroner investigate murder-suicide on Salt Spring Island

Two dead, police say there is no risk to the public

About 30% of B.C. students return to schools as in-class teaching restarts amid pandemic

Education minister noted that in-class instruction remains optional

Trudeau avoids questions about anti-racism protesters dispersed for Trump photo-op

Prime minister says racism is an issue Canadians must tackle at home, too

Bateman program encourages people to sketch outside, connect with nature

#MyNatureSketch initiative encourages Canadians to become ‘bright-eyed three year olds’

Be cautious expanding COVID-19 bubble, Dr. Bonnie Henry tells B.C.

Senior homes stay off-limits as schools, businesses reopen

How to safely drink water in areas impacted by flooding

Quality and safety of drinking water can be affected during and after floods

NDP getting COVID-19 wage subsidy ‘indirectly,’ B.C. Liberal leader says

B.C. NDP says Andrew Wilkinson is wrong about federal link

Most Read