The local aviation community is shock after one the region’s most experienced pilots died in a crash Wednesday.
Anthony (Tony) Quibell, 53, died when his Cessna Skymaster 337 airplane crashed near Crawford Bay. Quibell was the lone occupant in the plane that took off from the Nelson Airport at 1:30 p.m. on June 12 intending to fly to La Ronge, Saskatchewan. His six-hour flight was cut tragically short when his plane crashed in “high-treed terrain.” Quibell died at the scene.
“It was a real shock. He’s a very gifted and experienced pilot,” said Case Grypma, a longtime Nelson Pilots’ Association member and past president of the local association.
“As a group, we really offer our condolences to the family and our support. Tony was a really big part of the airport and he will be really missed as a pilot, a friend and an aircraft engineer.”
Quibell operated an aircraft repair business and contracted to the Ministry of Forests for forest fire spotting duty.
“He was one of the pilots right on the frontline of protection here, he is really going to be missed,” said Grypma.
Quibell’s plane was reported missing on Wednesday evening when it failed to arrive at its destination. Early the next morning the wreckage of the plane was spotted in a heavily treed area at the 6,500-foot level of a mountain near Crawford Bay.
The BC Coroners Service has recovered the body and the Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate the accident.
Transportation Safety Board’s Bill Yearwood said the investigation will be difficult considering the plane, loaded with fuel for a six-hour flight, burst into flames on contact and burned for a longer time than one with less fuel. As well, flight recorders are not required on planes of this size.
“The board has just made recommendations with regard to that,” he said. “Audio visual recorders are becoming more affordable and they certainly would help us in our investigation. In this case we have to rely on our old methods of tree scars, bent metal, burnt metal and light bulb analysis — all the tools we’ve been using for several years.”
Quibell has three children in their 20s and was originally from Saskatchewan. His Facebook page paints a picture of a man very active in the outdoors who loved aviation, motorcycles and skiing.
Grypma said Quibell was passionate about flight and did everything he could to ensure others enjoyed it as much as he did.
“He would drop whatever he was doing and help somebody, he was just that kind of guy,” said Grypma. “He was a reserved, but always there for you.”
Grypma said Quibell was no stranger to the part of the Kootenays where his plane crashed. “It was basically his backyard. He knew that area very well,” said Grypma.
Though he did not want to speculate too much on the specifics of what happened last week, Grypma said from his experience it’s a challenging area to fly.
“The weather that day was up and down,” said Grypma. “The east side of the lake, the mountains on that side, are kind of a weather factory. You can get really nasty downdrafts and the weather can change so quickly.”
Transportation Safety Board investigations can take up to a year. When this one is finished, Grypma hopes his friend’s death will help ensure future accidents don’t take place.
“I just hope that Transport Canada will be able to determine exactly what happened, whether it was mechanical or weather related,” he said. “As an industry we need to learn from this and that is why the investigations take so long because they need to make sure they get all the facts right. Any lessons to be learned are then disseminated and put into the curriculum of Transport Canada’s accident avoidance program.
“There is no point in assigning blame, it’s about finding a better way to things and improve the safety record of general aviation.”
Though it is a sad time around the Nelson airport, Grypma said those involved in flying know of the risks each time they lift their airplane’s wheels off the ground.
“Everytime you go flying there is an inherent risk, especially when you do it as a living,” said Grypma. “The longer you are involved in aviation, the higher chance somebody you know is going to have an accident.”