December 6, 2000, Tofino Airport, B.C. - The scene was set.
Weather was brilliant sunshine with a cloudless sky and a light westerly sea breeze. In the unseasonably warm conditions, the mechanics and pilots of Tofino Airlines had moved a floatplane out of the hangar to carry out scheduled maintenance. On the adjacent apron, a middle aged American businessman was loading and pre-flighting his immaculate Cessna 182 for the return flight to his home base in Oregon. He was completing his solo cross-country trip as a student pilot. Well known to the Tofino Airlines employees, they had complimented his adventuresome spirit in making a cross-border flight.
The serenity of the morning was broken by the faint forlorn moan of the Leonard Island foghorn. With disbelief and apprehension for the rookie pilot, a quick telephone call confirmed that indeed a fogbank was moving in from the Pacific. A glance to the west revealed a thin white line on the horizon. The student’s preflight seemed to take forever. At last he strapped in and fired up. With increasing alarm the onlookers realized that he was taxiing for runway 28 - a westbound departure into a light wind. Another observation noted that the gray wall had reached the golf course at the western boundary of the airport and was advancing in leaps and bounds! Sensing trouble, one of the pilots jumped into the silent Beaver, hit the master switch and transmitted a brief warning “Dave, don’t take off that way!” By this time, the Skylane was positioned on the threshold of 28 for the take-off roll.
The pilot transmitted back - “I check that”.
Almost simultaneously the throttle was closed and the aircraft began to accelerate. Initial relief turned to horror as the huddled group realized that this action was not a high speed taxi but commitment to take-off. The 182 broke ground and had climbed to 250 feet AGL when it entered the fog bank at mid field - the right wing had already dropped as it was engulfed.
Out of sight the engine sounds gave testimony to the remainder of the flight. For several seconds they were normal and then rapidly increased into a shrill crescendo, a brief flutter followed by the final impact. Then silence. The flight had been just under one minute in duration! One of the veteran pilots dejectedly confirmed what the rest feared...
“He’s just killed himself.”
A brief search in the mist located the burnt wreckage just a quarter mile north of the departure runway. The pilot’s wife and teenage daughters had difficulty comprehending how a beautiful day could turn into tragedy.