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RCMP officers and members from the coroner's office walk into the dense woods near the scene of a small plane crash on Gabriola Island.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Friends have identified one of the victims of a deadly plane crash on Gabriola Island, B.C., as a kind, caring and gifted pilot.

Alex Bahlsen, who had relocated to Mill Bay, B.C., about a year ago, was born in Germany and and moved to Cayley, Alta., about 30 years ago, according to a friend.

“He was a kind, caring, very intelligent, adventurous and fun guy – very talented,” said Rasmus Rydstrom-Poulsen, who is in touch with Mr. Bahlsen’s family.

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Investigators are still trying to piece together what caused a small aircraft to crash onto the island near Nanaimo on Tuesday evening. The BC Coroners Service and the RCMP confirmed there were multiple fatalities when the plane went down in a wooded residential area, creating a “significant” debris field.

Investigators were at the scene of a deadly airplane crash on Vancouver Island looking for answers. Investigators would only say there were multiple deaths and no survivors. The Canadian Press

However, neither the coroner’s service nor Transportation Safety Board (TSB) said how many passengers were aboard the aircraft or identified any of the victims.

Witnesses to the crash described a “huge explosion" after the aircraft hit the ground, causing a fire.

“The area that we’re dealing with … is, from what I understand, about 500 square metres in size, and a totally wooded area,” said Andy Watson, of the coroner’s service.

“With anything in that kind of radius, that’s going to take time, and it’s going to take the work of many folks to be able to accomplish that.”

The TSB has confirmed three investigators arrived at the crash site early Wednesday to begin examining the scene. It said in a statement the accident involved a piston twin-engine aircraft.

“I saw the plane spiralling toward the ground,” said witness David Holme. “The engines were going ... but they didn’t sound normal.”

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“About five houses down from us, I saw it nosedive into the ground, and then the explosion was just immense ... all the houses completely shook.”

Mr. Holme said he ran into the bushes at the crash site and yelled to see if anyone was alive and able to respond.

“I was probably within, I’d have to say, five feet of the fuselage ... and just fire all around me.”

He said he saw the rear end of the plane sticking out of the ground, but couldn’t see the wings.

“Part of the motor was on one part of the property and the other part of the motor was over on the other side of the property. It hit with such force, it just disintegrated the plane," he recalled.

RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Chris Manseau confirmed the first call to emergency services was made around 6:10 p.m.

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Cpl. Manseau said the area where the plane went down is primarily a residential neighbourhood, but police were not aware of any injuries on the ground. He confirmed the RCMP are currently working alongside the TSB at the scene of the accident.

“We’re tasked with making contact with the next of kin,” Cpl. Manseau said. “We’re still working through that process right now.”

Bette Lou Hagen, another resident, said she heard a noise “like a loud sonic boom."

“I heard a loud engine, it didn’t sound like a car engine, but it was really shaking my house and then I heard a loud crash,” Ms. Hagen said.

Ms. Hagen said the plane crashed about 50 metres from her backyard.

With files from The Canadian Press

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