The 25-year-old Picture Butte pilot who died with his father in a plane crash Saturday near Tofino didn't have a lot of experience but was licensed, according to search and rescue officials.
Mike Vandenberg and his 51-year-old father, Jurrie, apparently crashed while approaching the Tofino airport during bad weather. The wreckage of their Cessna 421 B was found on Vargas Island, a short distance northwest of Tofino, on Sunday after bad weather forced rescue crews to stop searching on Saturday.
C-GFMX Cessna 421 - crashed on Vargas Island, B.C.
The Cessna 421 with tail number C-GFMX is pictured in a 2008 photo taken at Edmonton Airport. The plane was reported missing Saturday, Dec. 14 after leaving Abbotsford airport in B.C. bound for Tofino on Vancouver Island. The wreckage was located Sunday on Vargas Island, near Tofino. The father and son aboard the plane did not survive. (Ray Barber/Airport-Data.com)
"He didn't have a lot of hours under his belt but was sufficient," said Capt. Ray Jacobson with the Canadian Coast Guard's Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria. "I think he was new to this particular plane."
The family owns Porcupine Corral Cleaning in Picture Butte and is well-known in the town.
According to a former mayor, the announcement of their deaths was made Sunday morning at a local church.
He says prayers were said for the family and that members of the community are still processing the news.
The family declined to comment when contacted by CBC News.
Rescue crews, including a Cormorant helicopter, were forced to stop Saturday afternoon because of bad weather.
According to Jacobson, thick fog and low-lying clouds were probably a big factor in the crash.
"Weather certainly appears to be the No. 1 factor," he said.
Combined with what Jacobson described as "limited approach aids" at the Tofino airport, it's possible those factors are what brought down the plane.
Officials from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada are expected to arrive in Tofino Monday and their investigation will determine the cause of the crash.
RCMP on Vancouver Island said the flight plan that had been filed indicated that the small, two-engine Cessna 421 B aircraft left Lethbridge for Tofino, with a stop in Abbotsford, B.C., Saturday afternoon.
The search began shortly after 3:30 p.m. PT Saturday when the plane dropped off radar near Tofino. No beacon signal was detected and bad weather, poor visibility and the approaching nightfall hampered the effort.
Jacobson said around 9:30 a.m. Sunday morning, the crew aboard a Canadian Forces Cormorant helicopter from Royal Canadian Air Force's 19 Wing Comox spotted the crash site, which is approximately 600 metres from the south side of Vargas Island.
Four search and rescue technicians were lowered from the helicopter onto the island, and found the wreckage in a treed area at what appeared to be a large impact crater. Jacobson said it took the technicians an hour to positively identify what was left of the plane as the wreckage of C-GFMX, the missing plane.
"There's nothing left," Jacosben said, adding that the father and son, whose remains were also located, would have died instantly.
Tofino RCMP Cpl. Andrew Waddell said officers who were on the ground on Vargas Island found only fragments of the plane.
"It appeared to be just the rear, tail: the elevator and rudder and the tail light, and that's about it," he said. "And then odd pieces of airplane aluminum scattered around — but not even a great amount of it, just some of it."
The family of the father and son live in Picture Butte, Alta., which is roughly three hours southeast of Calgary, according to Lethbridge RCMP.
The Cessna 421 was registered to an Edmonton company.
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