A privately registered Cessna 172 crashed into the trees near the sixth hole of Crawford Bay’s Kokanee Springs Golf Resort on Saturday evening, killing one person and seriously injuring another.
The accident occurred after the pilot attempted to land at the nearby airstrip, but aborted his landing at the last moment.
“I’m still emotionally overwrought,” said Kokanee Chalets’ owner Paul Hindson, who had been playing tennis nearby when he heard an explosive thump. He dropped his racket and ran to investigate.
Brant Hann, a paramedic and pilot from Calgary who was walking his dog when the crash occurred, witnessed the entire event and recounted what he saw to Hindson.
“The pilot felt he wasn’t going to make a good landing, so he tried to take off again to take another shot,” said Hindson. “On the highway there are two big rows of electrical lines. He cleared those, and whether he went into a stall or lost forward motion, I don’t know. But he came down in the trees.”
“We heard a weird chopping sound,” said Ingrid Baetzel, who was at the tennis courts with her husband Juergen when the plane went down.
“We heard later it was porpoising,” she said, referring to pilot-induced oscillation that occurs when a pilot inadvertently corrects in opposite directions, causing the plane to violently switch between upward and downward directions. The plane ultimately came to rest on its back and caught fire.
“We were running in with the very first people and the front end was fully engulfed in flames,” said Baetzel. A number of heroic passersby put themselves in danger to help rescue the pair trapped inside.
“I’m really proud of those guys. When you’re the first ones there it’s so hard to know what’s right,” said Baetzel. “I saw the fire and I didn’t want my husband running towards it, but I absolutely understood his need to help.”
Hindson and Baetzel’s husband were among the first to reach the wreckage and attempt to remove the occupants. Hindson said one of the rescuers kicked in the door, and then they worked together to extricate the pair.
“It was a blur. If you hesitate, you’re not going to do it. That’s the way I look at it,” said Hindson. “It certainly wasn’t a place I wanted to hang around very long. It was a volatile situation with a good chance of explosion.”
The rescuers were able to remove the female passenger quickly. They pulled her approximately 15 feet (4.6 m) away from the plane, and began to administer first aid on the fairway.
“I remember helping get the lady out. Her head was caught in the roof, so we had to pull her head up so she could be dragged out. It was pretty stressful while the plane was in flames,” he said.
Though she received aggressive treatment, including CPR, Baetzel and Hindson both believe the female passenger was killed on impact. This has yet to be confirmed.
“She was really small. It’s hard to tell, she could’ve been anywhere from a teenager to 20, max,” Baetzel said.
“They made some efforts to resuscitate her, and that was taken over by the paramedics. But there was a sense she was gone before she was even pulled out.”
The rescuers had to cut the pilot free from his harness.
“We had to manuever and wiggle him around. He was conscious, trying to talk to us. Nothing comprehensible, just babbling,” said Hindson.
Only moments after they removed the pilot from the plane, the flames intensified.
“They got him to safety and right after there was a series of explosions,” said Baetzel.
Creston RCMP and the BC Coroners Service responded to the crash.
The BC Coroners Service has confirmed the identity of the woman as Jane Yvonne Lavallee, aged 48, of Edmonton, Alberta.
The plane was registered in Alberta to an Edmonton man named Michal J. Kantoch, but it has not been confirmed whether he was flying the plane at the time of the accident.
The pilot suffered serious burns and was medevaced from the scene and transported to hospital.
Photos of the wreckage proliferated on Facebook and social media. The images show the burning fuselage jutting out of the trees.
A number people were later taken to hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. They were released that night.
Hindson praised all involved in the rescue effort, and said he believes anybody would do the same for him.
“I’m a 40-year motorcycle rider. Maybe one day I’ll be lying in the road and somebody will have to help me. It only struck me afterwards the danger we were in. But we had to make an effort go get those people out,” he said.
“It was worth it for a couple reasons. We saved the pilot’s life, and even though the woman was deceased, now the family will have her body, instead of it being burned beyond recognition.”
Now back at work, Hindson remarked on the surreal feel of the whole event.
“It was like something out of a movie,” he said.