05/14/2012 01:17 EDT | Updated 07/13/2012 05:12 EDT

3 confirmed dead in plane crash near Kelowna, B.C.

Three people were killed in a float plane crash about 25 kilometres southwest of Kelowna in the Okanagan region of B.C. on Sunday evening, the Transportation Safety Board has confirmed.

The single-engine de Havilland Beaver float plane went down in a heavily wooded area on an embankment below Highway 97C about seven kilometres west of the intersection with Brenda Mines Road around 6:45 p.m. PT.

Shortly after crash-landing, the plane was consumed by fire and crews from B.C. Ambulance and the West Kelowna Fire Department were unable to save anyone from the flames.

The pilot was Colin Moyes, of West Vancouver, CBC News has learned. Moyes was described by friends as an experienced pilot in his early 50s.

On Sunday night, emergency officials confirmed that at least one person died, but were prevented by darkness from conducting a thorough search of the smouldering wreckage.

TSB inspectors and the coroner were back at the site on Monday morning and TSB investigator Bill Yearwood confirmed all three people had died in the crash.

The plane was reportedly on a day trip from Pitt Meadows, east of Vancouver. It had departed Kelowna on its return trip when witnesses said they saw it flying low over the trees, according to RCMP Const. Claudette St. Thomas.

"They noticed that the airplane turned around and started heading back towards the Merritt area as if it were looking for a landing area, possibly the highway and ... the plane went down."

The amphibious plane was equipped with wheels, allowing it to land on water or ground, said Yearwood.

"But neither the wheels or the floats are designed to land in trees, where it crashed. The floats do provide some energy absorption in accidents," he said.

"It provides an extra crush zone, and helps absorb energy that would then not reach the occupants."

According to the TSB, an emergency beacon was activated just minutes before the crash, and weather conditions were good at the time.

Yearwood said the plane was carrying four people when it left Pitt Meadows, but only three were on board for the return flight when it crashed.