05/06/2012 04:40 EDT | Updated 07/06/2012 05:12 EDT

Friends mourn pilot killed in Manitoba lake crash

People in Gimli, Man., are mourning the death of an 81-year-old pilot whose plane crashed east of Lake Winnipeg over the weekend.

Al Graham's amphibious plane was reported missing late Saturday and was found a few hours later by search and rescue technicians

RCMP said searchers found it in Kapekun Lake, located in eastern Manitoba, early Sunday morning.

"It was located upside-down in the water, and at this point it appears there is one adult male deceased inside the aircraft," said Cpl. Miles Hiebert.

Police did not release the name of the victim but said he was an 81-year-old man from the Rural Municipality of Gimli.

Close friends of Graham told CBC News that he was the pilot and sole person aboard the plane.

Al Kristopherson, who parked his plane next to Graham's for 30 years, said the latter was very careful to keep his Lake Buccaneer amphibious craft in good shape.

"He [was a] very safe pilot, never ever challenged the weather, which is a big factor — danger factor — in flying. It's come as a shock to all of us."

Former Gimli Mayor Tammy Axelsson said Graham was a close family friend "with a great sense of humour and very kind."

"He was a very quiet, gentle, unassuming kind of a person," she told CBC News on Sunday.

"Very private, fiercely independent, and [in] incredibly good shape for a fellow his age."

Axelsson added that he loved the outdoors and had beautiful bird feeders set up around his home.

Friends who flew with Graham said he was experienced and very careful, adding that he had flown his Lake Buccaneer since the mid-1970s.

He was very familiar with the route that he was flying at the time of the crash, according to at least one friend.

Axelsson said Graham leaves behind a common-law wife, three daughters and several grandchildren.

Plane found submerged in lake

The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre based in Trenton, Ont., dispatched a Hercules aircraft shortly after 10:30 p.m. CT Saturday, after the RCMP received a report that a private float plane from the Gimli area was overdue.

Officials in Trenton said two search technicians aboard the Hercules spotted the float plane submerged in the lake at around 1:45 a.m., then parachuted into the area and confirmed at 2:30 a.m. at the pilot was deceased inside the aircraft.

Hiebert said an RCMP underwater recovery team was at Kapekun Lake on Sunday to recover the body.

"There will be an investigation, I'm sure, launched into the circumstances surrounding the crash," he said.

Kapekun Lake is about 300 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.