A pilot of a commercial helicopter has died after a crash that struck a respected Indigenous carver’s studio and narrowly missed the artist on Vancouver Island.
RCMP Constable Maury Tyre said the pilot was the only person on board when the chopper crashed on Tuesday in Campbell River, B.C. The victim’s identity is not being released for privacy reasons.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to the family of the victim and to the helicopter company as well, knowing that typically they’re a very tight-knight community,” he said.
“It’s very sad when an accident like this happens.”
Constable Tyre said the cause is unknown, but WorkSafe BC, the Transportation Safety Board and the provincial coroners service are investigating.
Keshia Malone, the great-niece of artist Bill Henderson, said he was in his carving shed and happened to get up from the chair where he normally works when the helicopter crashed into the structure.
The chopper struck the top corner of the shed right above the chair and the propeller blade went through the roof, she said.
“Had he not gotten up out of his chair, it probably would have been a lot worse,” Ms. Malone said.
Mr. Henderson, in his late 60s, is a member of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation and his masks, bowls, paddles and other carvings are collected around the world.
Ms. Malone said he was doing all right but is feeling shaken up and emotional, and doesn’t want to speak with media.
His nephews were outside the shed working on a totem pole close to where the crash happened but also escaped unscathed, Ms. Malone said.
“I was in my house across the street and all I heard was this huge, loud bang, kind of like a vehicle had hit a building but it was a lot louder than that,” she said.
“The next thing you hear is somebody yelling, ‘Call 911! Call 911!’ The next thing you know is the smoke and you smell the jet fuel. Everything happened all at once.”
There was significant damage to part of the carving shed and Ms. Malone wasn’t sure whether any art was damaged.
She said her family’s thoughts were with the pilot.
“Our condolences go out to his family,” she said.
The crash happened in the Tyee Spit area, which is home to several aviation companies. Police said the commercial helicopter was locally owned but did not release the company name.
The Transportation Safety Board said the accident involved a Bell 206 helicopter and it is deploying a team of investigators to the site. WorkSafe BC said it already has a safety officer at the scene.
British Columbia Emergency Health Services said it received an emergency call just after 11 a.m. about a helicopter crash in the Vancouver Island community.
The agency dispatched several crews, but its resources were scaled back once they arrived and only one paramedic crew remained as a precaution. It said no one was taken to hospital.
The coroners service confirmed it’s been notified of one fatality and is investigating.
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