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Former politician called B.C.’s ‘flying MLA’ perishes in plane crash

Harold Long, former B.C. MLA

Legislative Assembly of British Columbia

Former B.C. MLA Harold Long has died in a plane crash, the B.C. coroner's office has confirmed.

Mr. Long, 72, first served as a Social Credit MLA for McKenzie from 1986 to 1991, and then represented Powell River-Sunshine Coast for the Liberals from 2001 to 2005.

The coroner's office said on Wednesday morning that Mr. Long was the sole occupant of a DHC-2 Beaver float plane that was spotted overturned in Bute Inlet on the west side of Stuart Island late on Tuesday afternoon.

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Search-and-rescue technicians, the Canadian Coast Guard and the RCMP went to the scene later in the day. The coroner's office says authorities are continuing to investigate the accident.

During his time in the legislature, Mr. Long commuted from Powell River to Victoria in his private plane. In retirement, he continued to fly up and down the rugged B.C. coast line almost daily, close friends say.

Jack Weisgerber, a friend of Mr. Long's and a former Social Credit MLA, said Mr. Long had crashed a plane at least once before.

"Harold had told me about the accident, the first one, and it was on very glassy water … and apparently that's a hazard when it comes to float planes. You don't realize you're as close to the water as you are," Mr. Weisgerber said, adding that he believes the first crash happened before 1986, and that Mr. Long injured his back. "He loved flying a lot … it was kind of an adventure, and it [the first accident] didn't seem to dampen his enthusiasm for flying."

Geoff Plant, who sat in the Liberal caucus with Mr. Long during the first term of the Gordon Campbell government, remembered the time Mr. Long helped him out of jam and flew him home from a meeting in Vancouver.

"We were at a big meeting we both had to attend, but it meant I was late for a family event up the coast. And Harold said, 'That's not a problem, I'll fly you there,'" Mr. Plant recalled. "But he was completely unassuming about it, for him the plane was just another means of transportation."

Myrna Leishman, a Powell River city councillor, spent many summers flying with Mr. Long and her late husband at the Westview Flying Club.

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"In a way, you always had an idea that he [Mr. Long] would go in the plane, because he was in the plane all the time," she said.

Ms. Leishman says she had that exact thought on Tuesday while driving in her car.

"It felt funny when I said that. And this morning when I saw the writing on the TV about the crash, of course, it didn't have any details or anything … I said, 'That was Harold.' I knew."

Mr. Long was also remembered on Wednesday for his cool temperament when it came to politics.

"We had set ourselves a pretty ambitious agenda and we weren't always the most popular government in history," said Mr. Plant, the former Liberal MLA. "But Harold was always the practical, calming, the straight-shooting guy. Just a very fine person who would be the person you could count on in the heat of the storm to say, 'You know this will pass. Tomorrow, we will get up and get on with life.'"

Premier Christy Clark, who served in the legislature with Mr. Long for four years, issued a statement on Wednesday saying Mr. Long "set an example by always working to make his community and province a better place."

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"He embraced life with a great spirit. There were never any strangers when Harold was around. He treated everyone exactly the same – like a friend," she said.

Ms. Clark also expressed her condolences to Mr. Long's family, adding that they should be "immensely proud of all his contributions and his generous nature, both of which touched so many."

Mr. Long lived in the Powell River area his entire life, and before entering politics operated a freight transportation business that had been in his family for generations. Mr. Long was separated from his wife and leaves four adult children.

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