‘I was flabbergasted’: Witnesses recall moments before plane crashed into water near Courtenay


On a calm Sunday morning at low tide, a small airplane could be seen sitting high and dry on Gartley Beach, near Royston.

A few hours earlier, it was a much different scene at the beach.

At around 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, the Piper PA-28-140 aircraft crashed upside down into the water near the beach.

“It was very low, like very, very low,” said Jordan Scott, who witnessed the crash.

Numerous witnesses who spoke to CHEK News on Sunday said the aircraft appeared to be in trouble when it was seen flying low over the trees near the Kingfisher Resort, heading north, before hitting the water.

“I was flabbergasted,” said Rick Simmonds, who saw the crash. “It looked like a floatplane because of the amount of water and spray that was coming up but it was a plane with wheels.”

At the time, the water was about 30 metres from shore and the plane crashed roughly six kilometres away from the end of the  Courtenay Airpark runway.

“Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something screaming really low to the water,” added Ken Heinrich.

An RCMP helicopter was flying over the scene within minutes and crews with the Courtenay Fire Department and B.C. Ambulance Service rushed to the scene.

But by then, numerous people on shore had waded out into the waist-deep water to rescue the plane’s occupants, not knowing how many there were inside or if anyone had survived.

“I looked in and you could see maybe six inches of the window and you could see a little air pocket and I looked in there and didn’t see anybody. So, I started pounding on the side and hollering if anybody could hear me and then after a few pounds, I heard a voice which was a huge relief,” said Heinrich.

“We were able to get the passenger out and he was really shaken,” explained Scott. “I hear he’s OK and then we put him in a boat and brought him to shore.”

Both the pilot and passenger were taken to the hospital in Courtenay for observation but suffered no serious injuries.

According to Transport Canada, the 1968 Piper PA-28-140 is based in Pitt Meadows and registered to William Vong in New Westminster.

Simmonds said the occupants of the plane told him they had experienced some kind of issue over Denman Island.

“They just said they’d run into problems over Denman Island,” said Simmonds. “They’d left the Airpark and were trying to turn around and get back to the Courtenay Airpark so that they could get the plane looked at but this is as far as they got.”

A salvage expert was on the scene Sunday afternoon and indicated it could be a few days before the plane is moved off the beach.

Dean StoltzDean Stoltz

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