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Squamish resident survives plane crash

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A Squamish resident was one of two survivors of a fatal plane crash on northern Vancouver Island on Aug. 3.

The plane, a Grumman G-21 Goose that was traveling out of Port Hardy at 7:09 a.m., was carrying seven people, including Squamish resident Lorne Clowers, a 56-year-old log loader with the company, Seaspan. The plane crashed about 10 minutes after takeoff. Five people on-board the aircraft died.

The plane was headed to Kyuquot Sound, about 60 kilometres from Port Hardy, when it caught fire and crashed. Investigators continue to review the accident but it may have been caused by a faulty engine.

Survivor Bob Pomponio, also a log loader with Seaspan, got out of the plane and sent a text message to a friend, according to Captain Dave Bowes with the Rescue Coordination Centre in Victoria.

“One of the two survivors of the crash was text messaging a buddy of his who was then calling emergency,” he said.

The first report related to the crash came to the Rescue Coordination Centre from Pacific Coastal Airlines, which reported it was missing a twin-engine Grumman Goose.

“They had begun a search before they called us and that’s not altogether unusual,” Bowes said. “It’s not typically how it happens but with commercial operators if they’ve got an overdue, they’re the first ones to respond.

“If it was you flying privately and you were overdue, we would be the first ones to respond.”

Emergency calls stemming from the text messages were later relayed to the Rescue Coordination Centre, which tasked Buffalo and Cormorant helicopters when they got a call from the dispatcher.

“We were in direct contact, not with the guy on the ground, not one of the survivors, but who he was… text messaging,” Bowes said. “He was able to say he had seen rescue aircraft but he was below them, so that isolated the search area to a higher ground.”

Rescue parties received no signal from an Emergency Locator Transmitter, a beacon that’s used to help searchers find crash sites.

“There was no indication from that beacon,” Bowes said. “(That) is unfortunately the case when you have a really hard crash.

“It obviously simplifies things, you can hone it and get to it quickly. In this case there wasn’t.”

Without a transmitter, Bowes said it can be difficult to locate an airplane crash site.

“It’s just like between Whistler and Squamish, you can go 10 miles out of town and you’re looking for an aircraft,” he said. “Airplanes can be swallowed up.

“For instance, last summer I took a report of two hikers (who) had come across a crash of an aircraft right by Capilano Reservoir… That crash was 30 years old, so 30 years later somebody happened to find an old crash site.”

Of the five people who died in the crash, one of them was 36-year-old pilot Simon Lawrence. The other four were all Seaspan employees.

Clowers is believed to be recovering in Victoria General Hospital with a broken pelvis. A family member reached at home on Aug. 12 said he was not home yet, but was doing fine.

Pomponio has already been released from St. Joseph’s Hospital in Comox.

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