Wings Magazine

Divers recover bodies of B.C. float plane crash victims

May 31, 2010, Ahousat, B.C. - The bodies of three young parents and a pilot shuttling them home on a six-minute flight to a tight-knit First Nations community were recovered Sunday from crash wreckage of a submerged float plane off Vancouver Island.

May 31, 2010  By The Canadian Press

RCMP divers worked to remove siblings Katrina English, 22, and Edward Sam, 28, and cousin Samantha Mattersdorfer, 24, while the tiny population of Ahousat grieved together at a nearby hall.

"They were very well-known, all of them,'' said a woman calling herself an aunt of the trio, who asked she not be named. "Very well-liked amongst the community.''

English and Sam, known as "Hunter'', were described as basketball players, while Mattersdorfer worked at a fish plant, she said. All had young children.

"It's really impacted (us),'' she said, adding mourners will move from home to home while others in the community of about 1,800 will cook meals for the families for five days.


"Everybody relies on everybody, we wouldn't be able to do it if we didn't come together the way Ahousaht does it.''

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo, who originally hails from Ahousat and is its hereditary chief, immediately travelled to the community when he heard about the crash.

"Our whole community is deeply saddened by this unexpected tragedy,'' he said in a statement, expressing sympathies from the AFN.

"As you grieve know that our hearts and prayers are with you. We wish you courage and strength as you honour the memory of your loved ones.''

Also killed was Damon York, 33, of Tofino, who piloted the Cessna 185 that mysteriously dropped just after noon Saturday, about three-quarters of the way towards its destination. It quickly sank about 15 metres.

"Once the bodies are removed there will be some thought to if and when the aircraft will be retrieved from the water,'' RCMP Sgt. Kevin Murray said earlier on Sunday.

Challenges including the water's depth and currents prolonged the time it took to locate the plane, he said, which locals in boats tried frantically to stop from going under when it first crashed.

Among those who flocked to the area was the father of the two siblings, unaware it was his children he was attempting to rescue.

Murray couldn't say what the passengers were doing prior to the flight, but he acknowledged there's been "speculation'' they were drinking.

"We haven't been able to confirm any of that,'' he said.

"Over the next while we'll be trying to interview people that may have some further information about what transpired before the flight took off and trying to look at what may have contributed to the incident.''

The plane was one of two belonging to Atleo River Air Service, a locally-operated seaplane charter. Owner Jason Bertin said the company is working with the Transportation Safety Board to piece together what caused the crash.

"We're completely out of ideas and it's very unusual for an aircraft to experience something like this mid-flight,'' he said, adding his small staff was "quite emotional.''

"(York) was an experienced pilot in this area and in this type of aircraft,'' he said. "And weather was not an issue.''

York's former co-worker, Cory Crowley, said the man was an engineer and mechanic years before he ever became a pilot, and would have never flown a faulty aircraft.

"If he didn't think it was air-worthy, he wouldn't be in it,'' Crowley said. "Damon would have maintained that airplane.''

He said the description of York's plane taking a sudden nose dive was strange.

"You just don't fall out of the sky like that unless something separates from the aircraft,'' he said. "Just to suddenly nosedive. It's a really short chain of events.''

The Transportation Safety Board had three investigators working on the case, said spokesman Bill Yearwood.

"We're observing, we've asked the RCMP dive team to film the site underwater so we can have a good look at the wreckage before it's disturbed, and we're interviewing company officials and witnesses on site,'' he said.

"As soon as the aircraft is rigged to come to the surface, myself and another investigator will try to come to the site and have a good look at it.''

Ahousat is only accessible by air or sea.


Stories continue below