Pilot of plane that crashed on Gabriola Island was an experienced aviator, friends say

WatchBefore the Gabriola Island crash, the pilot, 61-year old Alex Bahlsen emigrated to Canada from Germany 30 years ago.

Officials are not confirming who the victims of a deadly plane crash on Gabriola Island are but friends are saying the pilot was 61-year-old Alex Bahlsen.

Friends describe Bahlsen as an experienced aviator with his own flight school.

But something went terribly wrong shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday night when his Piper Aerostar crashed in a wooded section on the northeast corner of Gabriola Island.

Friends say Bahlsen tested pilots, so if someone needed a commercial license, Bahlsen would be the tester. He also flew helicopters.

Raz Rydstrom is convinced something happened beyond his friend’s control.

“The only thing I can imagine is there must have been some icing and the de-icing system which are these balloons affixed to the propellers that if they don’t inflate properly then they can’t push the ice off,” Rydstrom said.

Bahlsen started his last flight in at Bishop’s airport in California.  He then headed to Vancouver Island. His wife was in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico while he flew home to Mill Bay, according to friend Tim Dwyer.

“He said goodbye to his wife in Cabo San Lucas, and she didn’t’ hear back from him when landed in Nanaimo. So she was immediately suspect of what happened. They had radar info on the plane,” Dwyer said.

The crash occurred in a heavily treed area.  Retired TSB investigator Bill Yearwood said the terrain makes it difficult for investigators.

READ MORE: ‘You’re just looking for survivors:’ Witnesses describe moments plane crashed on Gabriola Island

“The investigators are looking for what trapped or caused that pilot to think he was doing OK, and then ended up having an accident,” Yearwood said.

RCMP Corporal Chris Manseau said it may take days to uncover what happened.

“At this time it’s going to take some time to get to it all. The trees and terrain are making it difficult for the investigators,” Manseau said.

Friends say Bahlsen leaves behind his wife, two daughters, and three grandchildren. There are three agencies involved including the Transportation Safety Board, the BC Coroners Service, and the RCMP. The coroner confirmed multiple fatalities in the crash, but are not releasing any further information, specifically how many people died, until the next-of-kin are notified.

Mary GriffinMary Griffin

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