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'Complete silence': Plane crash survivor recounts moments before aircraft went down

Less than a minute into the flight, one engine sputtered and then the next

Kelsy Wurzinger was taking a video as the twin-engine plane she was travelling in took off for Port Hardy when she heard everything go quiet.

Less than a minute into the flight, one engine sputtered and then the next, she said.

“And then it was just complete silence as we flew down into the trees. And all you could hear was us hitting the trees,” she said.

Wurzinger was one of four passengers onboard a Grumman Goose amphibious aircraft headed to Port Hardy that crashed moments after ­leaving Bella Bella on Dec. 18, 2023, about 2:30 p.m.

A preliminary report on the crash by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada says shortly after takeoff, the left engine surged and lost power, followed by the right engine ­seconds later. The TSB is still investigating the crash and could not say when the investigation would conclude.

The plane, from Port Hardy-based Wilderness Seaplanes, crashed nose-first into a forest not far from the airport, ­Wurzinger said. “And the whole plane just kind of crumbled around us.”

After a moment of stunned silence, all four passengers and the pilot climbed out of the ­aircraft.

They were shaken up and many had hit their heads, but all five were able to bushwhack through dense forest and heavy rain about half a kilometre out of the forest to a road where people who had watched the plane go down from the airport were waiting.

They were taken to hospital in Bella Bella, where they were checked out. They were all in shock and didn’t realize how hurt they were at the time, she said. “We were just all completely ragdolled. I couldn’t get off the couch for a month even though I didn’t break anything. I was just like everything’s in pain.”

Wurzinger has started a fundraiser for the pilot, Don Fossum, who lost his job and suffered a stroke after the crash, raising more than $13,000 to support his recovery. Fossum, 51, is still in hospital and was unable to speak with the Times Colonist.

“He remained cool and crashed that plane perfectly,” said Wurzinger, who feels grateful to Fossum for his level head during the crash.

Fossum has been in Victoria General Hospital since his stroke on Feb. 20, far from his wife and three kids in Port Hardy. He recently moved to the rehab wing in the hospital and can “hobble around” using a walker, said Wurzinger, who visited him Tuesday. He’s doing well and his spirits are high, but the situation has been difficult on him, she said.

Garon Gabrielle, a former pilot with Wilderness Seaplanes who worked with Fossum, said it’s hard to imagine what the pilot is going through.

“The poor guy is sitting in the hospital after having a stroke. And his whole entire world has changed,” said Gabrielle.

Gabrielle trained with Fossum at Wilderness Seaplanes and estimated they flew together for more than 200 hours. Fossum was a safe, diligent pilot who followed standard operating procedures, he said.

“I would put my kids on that plane with Don any day of the week,” said Gabrielle, who lost his job at Wilderness Seaplanes in 2021 because he chose not to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

Vince Crooks, operations manager at Wilderness Seaplanes, confirmed Fossum had been fired, but said he could not share any details.

He said he feels for Fossum as he recovers from his stroke, especially because it’s difficult for pilots to resume flying after a stroke.

The aircraft is destroyed and the company hopes to replace it eventually, but it will be difficult to find a replacement, he said. If the company buys another similar aircraft, there will be a lot of work to bring it up to a commercial standard, Crooks said. “It’s unfortunate because it was kind of the flagship of the fleet.”

The December 2023 crash was the second involving Fossum and the Grumman Goose, Crooks said. In a July 2022 crash north of Port Hardy, the aircraft began to sink while taxiing on water. Eight passengers and Fossum got out safely.

The plane sank and was recovered. It cost the company about $500,000 to repair the aircraft and it was ready to fly again in May 2023, seven months before the next crash, Crooks said.

Wilderness Seaplanes serves about 50 communities, work camps and other sites on the B.C. coast at peak times in the summer.

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