Mount Royal University aviation instructor Jeffrey Bird has been identified as one of two people killed in a single plane crash west of Calgary on Monday night.
Bird was a Class 3 instructor in the MRU aviation program, said Mount Royal University president David Docherty.
Prior to this, he was a pilot instructor with the Royal Canadian Air Force, stationed in Moose Jaw, Sask., and before that, a helicopter pilot with the 408th Squadron in Edmonton, said Docherty.
“Today has been an extremely difficult day,” Docherty said, choking back tears. “We’ve spoken to [Bird’s] family and they are understandably heartbroken. It is very, very, tragic because these are individuals who, flying is their life and they wanted to teach others to fly and fulfil their dreams.”
Bird was married and joined MRU aviation program in January, according to his LinkedIn profile.
He was one of two instructors piloting a twin-engine Tecnam owned by the university which went down in the Waiparous area, 100 kilometres northwest of Calgary, just before 6 p.m. Monday.
It was being flown in the usual flight path by the two experienced faculty members, Docherty said at an earlier news conference Tuesday.
The name of the second pilot has not been released.
MRU has ground planes in its aviation program and suspended classes until at least the end of the week as the school mourns the loss of the two flight instructors.
Flags at Mount Royal University were lowered to half mast Tuesday as the school mourns the loss of two flight instructors. (Allison Dempster/CBC)
“The program will continue,” said Docherty. “What we will do is make sure the students and instructors will get back in the planes when the students and instructors are ready to fly. We’ve cancelled classes until the end of the week and the planes have been grounded until at least the end of the week, until we’re better able to assess when people are able to get back.”
RCMP were alerted about the crash by the crew of another plane.
Several emergency crews searched the area shortly after the plane went down, including the STARS air ambulance service.
The plane was located near the junction of Highway 40 and Highway 579, said Cpl. Curtis Peters.
“Investigators from the RCMP as well as STARS, and military and civilian aircraft, made attempts to find the scene,” he said.
“They did locate the crash site. There were two people on board at the time of the crash, and unfortunately there were no survivors in this.”
The plane was on a routine training flight from the Springbank Airport and in designated training airspace, Mount Royal wrote in a statement. The Tecnam is one three twin-engines owned by Mount Royal. It also has five single-engine Cessna 172s in its fleet.
‘They become like family’
Luc Sinal, president of the aviation students’ association, said the instructors who died were extraordinary teachers and he offered his condolences to their families.
“These instructors helped [us] discover the love of flying,” he said.
He said the aviation program at MRU is a tight-knit group, with about 60 students working with just 12 instructors.
“They become like family to us,” he said.
Luc Sinal, who head the aviation students’ organization, said the students are deeply saddened by the loss of their two flight instructors. (CBC)
Transportation Safety Board (TSB) officials have begun to investigate the cause of the crash. Docherty said the school will cooperate and offer any assistance it can.
Investigators are taking pictures and measurements of the crash site before moving the wreckage to Edmonton, where it will be examined, said TSB western regional manager Jon Lee.
They are also arranging to retrieve radar information from Nav Canada.
“That will show, hopefully, what the aircraft was doing in terms of its speed, altitude and position,” Lee said.
He noted that twin-engine aircraft are not required to have flight data recorders or cockpit voice recorders.
“But, in this day and age with the advances in electronics and avionics … there are lots of devices that could be in that aircraft that could record a lot of information,” Lee said.
Mount Royal’s aviation program to train commercial pilots began in 1970. This is the first time the school has experienced a fatality in its aviation program.
The plane crashed near the junction of Highway 40 and Highway 579. (Google Maps )