TOFINO, B.C. – Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board are expected to arrive at the site of a float plane crash on Vancouver Island on Monday to try to determine the cause of a crash that killed two of the six people on board three days earlier.
BC Coroners Service personnel as well as police were forced to hike into the forested area near Tofino, B.C. on Saturday, after air travel was ruled out because of poor weather conditions.
Two people escaped unharmed in Friday’s plane crash, and Vancouver Island Health Authority said on the weekend that the other two people who were injured are both now in stable condition at a Victoria hospital.
Police have said there was a pilot and five passengers on the plane that was operated by Air Nootka, but none of the identities have been released.
Dianne Ignace, a member of the Hesquiaht First Nation and a gift shop owner in Hesquiaht Village, said on Sunday that she remembers speaking last Wednesday with five hikers who she believes were on board the plane.
Ignace said the five people she spoke to last week were experienced hikers who bought some fudge, cedar bark roses, water and a glass ball. There were at least two women in the group, and the youngest member appeared to be around 50 years old, she said.
“They were on their way hiking … and they stopped in here and said ‘hi’ for about an hour,” Ignace said in a phone interview. “They were fun people — we joked around about the hike, and about the stuff we picked up from the Japanese tsunami debris that arrived, and that’s about it.”
Ignace said there were three groups of people on Friday who were being picked up by Air Nootka at Hesquiaht Lake, where the trail ends. However, she only heard and saw two planes pass by on their way back to Gold River, she said.
When she realized that one aircraft had crashed, she spoke with someone at the float plane company, who told her that there were five passengers on board, she said.
“And I said, ‘Oh no, not the family with kids?’, and they said no, it was five adults and a pilot,” she said. “So I looked it up in my book and found the five adults, and I knew who it was right away.”
Ignace, who has been living in the area for nearly 40 years, said there are several routes that pilots can take to get from Gold River to Hesquiaht Lake, and vice versa. However, most tend to either fly over the water, which takes about 10 minutes longer, or to “shoot over the trees and go right in,” she said.
While the Transportation Safety Board still has to probe the cause of the accident, Ignace speculates that limited visibility caused by low cloud cover on Friday may have lead to the crash.
“The cloud cover has been coming and going, and rising and falling within 15, 20 minutes,” she said.
Bill Yearwood with the Transportation Safety Board said the authority is expected to give an update on the investigation on Tuesday.