POLITICS
10/28/2011 12:53 EDT | Updated 12/28/2011 05:12 EST

One person died after Thursday's plane crash outside Vancouver's airport

VANCOUVER - A veteran pilot with thousands of hours in the cockpit died with loved ones by his side after his small plane smashed onto its belly and burst into flames just short of Vancouver's airport.

Luc Fortin, a 44-year-old father and husband from North Vancouver, believed the aircraft was facing minor troubles when he first turned the flight around from a trip to the B.C. Interior on Thursday.

Instead, a terrifying scene unfolded inside and outside the Beechcraft King Air 100 carrying eight others. The plane plummeted too early, clipping a car on the rush-hour roadway.

A mad scramble ensued as Good Samaritans and emergency workers risked their own safety to retrieve the victims.

Fortin was pulled from the wreckage suffering fire-related injuries, smoke-inhalation and blunt force trauma, said the B.C. Coroners Service on Friday. He died in hospital at about 9 p.m., five hours after the crash.

"Some of his relatives were with him at the time," said coroner Owen Court. "The family has lost someone very suddenly and so they're going through the expected grief."

The plane was operated by Northern Thunderbird Air, based in Prince George, B.C. General Manager Bill Hesse said Fortin was a 14,000-hour pilot with international experience who had worked for the company since 2007.

"He was very respected, an easy-going fellow," he said. "He was well-liked by everyone in our company. He was just a really good guy — a real professional."

The Vancouver Coastal Health Authority said on Friday two passengers were in critical condition in intensive care, while four people were in serious but stable condition. Two others were discharged from hospital overnight.

RCMP said two more people on the ground were also hurt, but couldn't say if they were walking on the road or in a vehicle. Two people from the injured group were treated at the scene.

As Fortin flew back to the airport, he seemed calm and told an air traffic controller he didn't need any emergency equipment or help, according to a recording on LiveATC.net, a website of global air-traffic control communication.

"We're good here at the moment," he said.

Bill Yearwood, the lead investigator for the Transportation Safety Board, said everything appeared to be normal as the plane approached the runway.

"But just short of the airport perimeter the aircraft banked sharply to the left, turned 90 degrees and crashed about 900 metres short of the runway," he told a news conference Friday.

The plane slammed into a lamppost and hit a car before crashing on a Richmond, B.C., road and catching fire, Yearwood said.

He said a caution light triggered the return to the airport, but the pilot didn't consider that to be a critical problem.

The cockpit voice recorder will be sent to Ottawa for examination. The plane was removed from the street early Friday and is being analyzed at an airport hangar.

Malcolm Brodie, the mayor of Richmond, said he's saddened by the pilot's death.

"That is tragic, and obviously our hearts go out to that person and their family and loved ones, and also (to) the other victims of this crash. It's just a horrific event."

Brodie said he's asked the federal government several times to consider moving smaller planes to other regional airports.

"It just seems to me that if you have these huge airliners that are using YVR, once you get to a certain point you should start channelling the other planes to other locales," he said.

Thursday's crash was the third such incident involving a small plane in recent years.

In October 2007, the pilot of a Piper Seneca twin-engine plane died after his aircraft plowed into a highrise apartment building in Richmond.

RCMP Insp. Janis Gray said Thursday's situation could have been much worse had the plane crashed and burned in a remote location.

"More than likely, (we would) have multiple victims, multiple serious victims," she told a news conference. "Within minutes members of the public, including business owners, were extracting people from the plane, which was on fire."

She hailed people who risked their own lives as they rushed to get people out of the burning plane.

"We're thankful that they were there and they did what they thought was the right thing to do."

(The Canadian Press, News 1130)