Multiple fatalities after small plane crashes in British Columbia

TORONTO (Reuters) - A small plane that crashed on Gabriola Island in British Columbia on Tuesday evening was engulfed in flames after it hit the ground, killing several people, according to authorities and an eyewitness on Wednesday.

The Transportation Safety Board said three investigators were due on site later in the day to investigate the piston, twin-engine aircraft accident. Coroners were also headed to the site on the northwest corner of the island, which has about 4,000 inhabitants.

The cause and number of fatalities have not been confirmed.

On Tuesday evening, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police found multiple fatalities at the crash site, it said in a statement.

When the plane hit the ground, a bang shook Ken DeCarle’s house and the island resident ventured out to see if he could help, he said in a telephone interview.

DeCarle saw flames about 150 meters (492 feet) from his house and came across the wreckage of a plane burning on both sides, its engine lopped off.

“I got up as close to the fire as possible and looked around and called out .... There was nothing at all. Just dead silence. Just the flames. ... It’s just really, really sad,” he said. It was especially foggy on Tuesday evening, he added.

Just before the plane hit the ground, DeCarle said he heard the sound of the engine “rise and fall” and that it made him think the aircraft was “out of control.”

“We have aircraft here all the time. ... You get to know what a normal aircraft sounds like,” he said. “You could tell this airplane was in trouble, and it sounds like (the pilot) was fighting it all the way down.”

The B.C. Coroners Service “is in the preliminary stages of its fact-finding investigation to determine who died, and how, where, when and by what means the deceased came to their sudden, unexpected deaths,” spokesman Andy Watson said in a statement.

Last month, two families from Uzbekistan died when their single-engine aircraft crashed in a wooded area on the outskirts of Kingston, Ontario, killing all seven people aboard.

Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Richard Chang