A Saturday afternoon plane crash over Mount Swansea has claimed the lives of two longtime members of the Canadian Rockies Soaring Club.
According to local RCMP, the crash occurred around 3:30 p.m. when two sailplanes — lightweight, single-seater aircraft commonly known as gliders — collided in midair south of Invermere.
Cpl. Dan Moskaluk of the RCMP’s E Division said the two planes were gliding in the same thermal lift when their wings touched, which caused both aircraft to lose control and crash into the side of the mountain.
“Gliders work on the air currents, so there’s a warm air current that makes them rise. So they were flying in that same area, working on that same wind current,” he added.
Moskaluk says it’s not uncommon for gliders to fly relatively close to each other, and the collision appears to have been an accident.
“It was witnessed by another glider who saw them and was able to make the observation that they were flying in that same air current and at some point in time they contacted wings,” he said. Several hikers on Mount Swansea also witnessed the crash.
The two glider pilots were 50 and 59, hailing from Calgary and Kelowna, respectively. Neither survived the crash.
Names of the deceased had not been released at press time.
Invermere Soaring Centre owner Trevor Florence told The Valley Echo he’d just returned to the Invermere airport from a flight of his own when he heard about the collision.
Florence jumped into a helicopter and headed to the scene. Columbia Valley RCMP, search and rescue teams and the B.C. Ambulance Service also attended in short order.
Florence said club members, many of whom stayed at the airport late into the evening, were still processing what had happened.
“It’s a bit numbing right now,” he said. “It hasn’t really set in. It’s a bit surreal. We’ve been friends for years and years and all of a sudden they’re gone.”
Both pilots were experienced, knew the terrain they were flying well and were active members of the small, close-knit gliding club.
“I believe they were aware each other was there. But all it takes is looking into the sun or being distracted and not being aware of closing speeds,” says Florence. “It’s one of those freak things you wish didn’t happen.”