Divers have recovered the bodies of six people who were missing after the crash of a float plane around B.C.'s Gulf Islands.
The Dehavilland Beaver aircraft was carrying eight people when it went down Sunday afternoon during takeoff in Lyall Harbour, off Saturna Island.
"As far as I know the aircraft doors were open and all the persons were still inside the aircraft," coast guard spokesman Troy Haddock said. "I think there was a bit of twisted wreckage associated with the crash but unknown what the extent of the wreckage or the damage is."
Only two people - the pilot and a female passenger - were rescued within minutes of the crash and both are expected to survive, although one has serious injuries while the other is listed in stable condition. Six people, including a baby, were trapped in the plane that sank in 11 metres of water, moments after going down.
The plane was operated by Seair Seaplanes, a Richmond, B.C.-based company that provides scheduled service to the Gulf Islands. Seair Seaplanes says it is not flying its planes after yesterday's crash, according to a local radio report.
The sound of the float plane "crumpling" sent James White rushing to his skiff to look for survivors, but while he got into Lyall Harbour within minutes, the plane had already slipped beneath the water. "There was no sign of anybody else or any other debris from the aircraft so I think it probably sank pretty fast," Mr. White told The Canadian Press in a telephone interview.
Mr. White said he heard the engine of the plane making its regularly scheduled take-off from the harbour, then "a kind of crumpling noise soon after that."
He headed to his dock and jumped in his small aluminum skiff in search of survivors. "By the time I got onto my dock, the plane had disappeared. It had gone beneath the surface. So I got into my boat toward where I thought that I'd seen it and I saw two people in the water who were alive."
He found a woman and the pilot close together in the water, both conscious and begging for help. "From what I could see, he had a bad bash on his head and his arm was broken and he has some other injuries."
Mr. White couldn't pull the two of them into his boat on his own. He tied them to the side of his vessel for a few minutes until other boats came to help. He was quickly joined on the water by other volunteers, many of whom had been watching the Grey Cup at the nearby Lighthouse Pub when word came that a plane had crashed.
Allen Olsen said he didn't see the crash himself, but rushed out to the government wharf as soon as he heard.
"We saw the plane was in the water, at a 45-degree angle with one wing in the water and the tail and other wing sticking out. The nose was in the water. We're scrambling to get the nose ready, and turned around and looked and it had sunk," the 62-year-old retiree said in a telephone interview. "I thought we would run out there in our boats and rescue people off of pontoons or something, and the plane was gone."
After several attempts, coast guard divers located the aircraft and victims around 10:50 p.m. PST - more than six hours after it crashed. They were assisted by the coast guard, coast guard auxiliary, rescue aircraft and small boats from nearby Islands.
"The local people did a great job. The searchers did a remarkable job in finding the aircraft under the water and I think that's as good an outcome as could be hoped for, given that these people were deceased and obviously were deceased very shortly after the incident happened," said Mike Stacey, maritime co-ordinator for the Coast Guard and the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria.
Another spokesman at the centre said the bodies were being taken to Royal Jubilee Hospital in the city. He did not yet have information on the ages or genders of the victims.
The Rescue Co-Ordination Centre says the case has now been turned over to local RCMP and the Transportation Safety Board to determine the cause of the crash.
Saturna Island is located at the eastern edge of the Gulf Islands, more than 50 kilometres south of Vancouver.
Last year there were two fatal float plane crashes off the coast of British Columbia. In August, 2008, five people were killed when a Pacific Coastal Airlines Grumman Goose crashed on Vancouver Island. Then in November, 2008, one man survived a crash that killed seven others on Thormanby Island, located between the B.C. mainland and northern Vancouver Island.
With a report from Jill Mahoney