Vancouver Island

'One of the blades came right through the roof': Pilot dead in Campbell River helicopter crash

Published Sept. 24, 2019 2:53 p.m. ET
Updated Sept. 24, 2019 9:54 p.m. ET

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A well-known helicopter pilot with decades of flying experience on Vancouver Island is dead after his helicopter crashed into a building in Campbell River Tuesday morning.

Friends and colleagues of Ed Wilcock, owner of E&B Helicopters in Campbell River, confirmed to CTV News that he was the pilot killed in the crash.

Bill Alder, a former co-owner of E&B (Ed & Bill) Helicopters along with Wilcock, remembered his friend and partner as "very focused and very driven."

"Anybody in the community already knows him," Alder told CTV News.

"He was an experienced pilot and businessman in the community and has been for a long, long time. He's done a lot for this community. He's going to be missed, big time."

'It came towards us and we started running'

Rescuers were called to the crash scene near Spit Road at approximately 11:25 a.m.

Campbell River resident Sandra Malone told CTV News from the scene that her uncle and two cousins were in a carving shed working on a totem pole when the helicopter slammed through the roof.

"My Uncle Billy had just left his seat right below where the helicopter crashed," Malone said. "He just got up to walk towards where my two cousins were, for whatever reason, and one of the blades came right through the roof.

"All you can smell is the fuel," she added.

Malone's uncle, Bill Henderson, told CTV News that he saw the helicopter coming down and it appeared to be out of control.

"It came towards us and we started running," Henderson said. "And when the helicopter hit, I ran back to the helicopter just to see how many people was in it."

Henderson said when he got close to the downed aircraft, the smell of burning fuel frightened him and he ran away again.

"Where I was sitting is right where the helicopter hit," he said. "That’s my spot in the shop, is right in that corner." 

'I noticed the blades were slowing down'

Malone said a group of onlookers also watched the aircraft as it apparently turned towards a nearby landing pad and started wobbling before dropping onto the shed.

"I don't know who the people were who got the pilot out of the helicopter but he didn't make it," she said.

Resident Camble Quatell said he saw the whole incident unfold and then tried to help extinguish the flames with a hose.

"He started to sputter, sputter, and I noticed the blades were slowing down," Quatell told CTV News. 

"He knew there was something wrong because he was spinning around," the witness said.

"He was coming down real fast and he hit like, 'Boom,' and that was the end of it. I thought he was going to hit the middle of that building, but he hit the corner."

Quatell said that by the time firefighters arrived, another helicopter pilot was already waiting with a rescue basket attached to his chopper, ready to fly the downed pilot to hospital. "But there was no response," he said.

"The flames got underneath the building's roof and the people next door had a hose and started squirting underneath," he said. "They basically had the fire out. Then they pulled the guy out and he was deceased."

Pilot won safety award in 2017

The Spit Road area, where several aircraft hangars are located, was temporarily closed while police investigated.

"A locally owned commercial helicopter met a tragic end in the area with one soul on board who did not survive," said RCMP Const. Maury Tyre.

"The cause of the crash is presently unknown and will be investigated by WorkSafeBC, the national Transporation Safety Board and the BC Coroners Service," Tyre said.

The BC Coroners Service confirmed it was en route to the scene around noon Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Safety Board has deployed a team of investigators to examine the site and confirmed that the aircraft was a Bell 206 helicopter.

The RCMP expressed condolences to the pilot's family and to the employees of the helicopter company.

E&B Helicopters has provided air transportation and emergency evacuation services to hundreds of forest industry companies since 1990. Prior to being a pilot, Wilcock worked in the forest industry as a camp superintendent.

Wilcock was given a lifetime-achievement-in-safety award by the BC Forest Safety Council in 2017, citing his "understanding and appreciation of workers' safety in the forestry industry."

In 2013, an E&B helicopter crashed near Bute Inlet, northeast of Campbell River, killing one of six people on board.

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