Crumpled remains of a plane that went down at the north end of Harrison Lake.

Cessna crash ‘operational in nature,’ says investigator

The Cessna carrying two young men on a training flight in mountainous terrain crashed on its way home in a remote area west of the north end of Harrison Lake, an investigator says.

The Cessna carrying two young men on a training flight in mountainous terrain crashed on its way home in a remote area west of the north end of Harrison Lake, an investigator says.

“They were planning a round-robin trip and this was pretty much their last leg of it,” Bill Yearwood, an investigator with the Transportation Safety Board, told The Progress on Thursday following a helicopter trip to the crash site.

“The impact was not survivable,” he said. “It’s a tragic event and two young men lost their lives.”

Pilot Brett Loftus, 25, from Langley, died in the crash along with student Joel Nortman, 23, from Vancouver. They had left Boundary Bay airport earlier that day for a lesson in flying in mountainous terrain.

Which despite its beauty, Yearwood said is full of optical illusions and wind currents that challenge the navigation skills of experienced pilots.

Yearwood could not determine the cause of the crash from the on-site inspection of the wreckage, but he believes it was “operational in nature,” meaning it had to do with the performance of the aircraft in mountainous terrain.

There is no voice or data recorder on small planes like the Cessna, he said, “so our information has to be gathered from very basic investigator techniques.”

But it’s going to takes days, maybe weeks to get the wreckage down from the crash site at 2,950 feet above sea level, on a hillside about 200 feet below the crest of a ridge in the valley between two mountains.

At this stage, Yearwood can’t even establish who was flying the Cessna at the time of the crash. He said Loftus was an experienced pilot, and fully licensed.

The impact of the crash set off an emergency locator in the plane, which led officials to the crash scene late Tuesday.

Greg Unruh, who led a Chilliwack search and rescue team, said a helicopter flew the SAR team and TSB officials to a landing area above the wreckage, and then they made their way down to the crash site.

“Everything had to be done by helicopter,” Unruh said.

RCMP Cpl. Tammy Hollingsworth said the crash was “absolutely a tragic accident.”

“The families and friends of these two men are understandably having difficulty dealing with their losses and are asking for their privacy,” she said.

Because there is nothing to indicate anything criminal in the crash, the TSB and the B.C. Coroner’s Office now have full conduct of the investigation, she said.