Bodies removed from float plane wreckage on Sunday

When Russell Frank saw the float plane nosedive into the water straight ahead of him on Saturday, he knew he had to do something.

Frank, who was in his water taxi carrying his son and four other passengers from Ahousaht to Tofino off the west coast of Vancouver Island, immediately headed for the four-seater Atleo River Air Cessna. The single-engine plane was submerged except for its pontoons and its tail was snapped almost completely off. A sheen of oil sat on the waters of Millar Channel.

The group tied the plane to the stern of Frankís boat, which held it afloat for a few minutes. Then the weight of the craft began to pull his engine underwater.

"I asked a guy that was travelling with me to untie it and move it to the bow," said Frank, a 45-year-old lifelong resident of the remote first nations community of Ahousaht. "But after we untied it, it just shot straight to the bottom."

What Frank didn’t know at the time was that the sinking plane carried his nephew, Hunter Sam, 28; Hunter’s sister Katrina Sam-English, 22; their cousin and Frankís niece Samantha Mattersdorfer, 24; and Frank’s friend and pilot, Damon York, 33, who all died in the crash.

Sam was a construction worker with three young children.

Sam-English was married with two small children, while Mattersdorfer was the mother of a young girl. According to Atleo River Air, York was an experienced pilot and a Tofino resident.

On Sunday, first nations elders from Ahousaht conducted a prayer ceremony on board a police boat as RCMP divers pulled the remains of the Cessnaís pilot and three passengers from the wreckage, shortly after extensive searches resulted in its discovery.

When the plane went down, Frank and his passengers were just off Yates Point, northwest of Tofino on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Had his passengers not been late to catch his water taxi, the plane might have come down right on top of them, Frank said.

"My passengers were six minutes late and we were six minutes getting to the crash site," said Frank. "Had we been on time, the plane would have landed right in the bow of my boat because it was dead centre off the bow."

The plane remained submerged late Sunday in approximately 15 metres of water.

"They’re waiting now to decide what is the next step," said Bill Yearwood, lead investigator with the federal Transportation Safety Board. "It’s not an easy or quick process; you’ve got to be careful when you pull it up.

"They’re going to photograph it under water for me so we have some good information if it gets damaged on recovery."

The plane took off from Tofino around noon on Saturday and was on its way to Ahousaht harbour, a 12-minute flight.

The community of Ahousaht — accessible only by boat or specially chartered plane — is the home of Shawn Atleo, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, who was there on Sunday to join his community in mourning.

"Our whole community is deeply saddened by this unexpected tragedy," Atleo wrote in an e-mail Sunday. "To the family and friends who are in mourning, please accept the heartfelt sympathies of the Assembly of First Nations Staff and Executive. As you grieve know that our hearts and prayers are with you. We wish you courage and strength as you honour the memory of your loved ones."

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Are there major safety problems with float planes? Read Larry Pynn’s investigative series: "Broken Wings."


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Atleo River Air victims

BY Andrea Woo

Hunter Sam, 28

Hunter Sam was a construction worker and the father of three young children: Eight-month-old Aysiah, with fiance Melissa Schram; Janae, 6; and Jeremy, 5. He had three siblings, including Katrina Sam-English, who perished alongside him in the crash.

Sam was a mixed martial arts fan and looked forward to UFC 115 at GM Place in June. One of his last Facebook postings, from Friday, read, "countdown to ufc 115, cant wait it’s going to b a good one ICEMAN … ACE ….GRIFFIN."

Sam also enjoyed watching basketball and playing poker and video games.

Schram, whom Sam proposed to just three months ago, poured her heart out on her own Facebook page Sunday: &quot;Hunter, How am I gonna do all this without you! </3 I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!&quot; On Saturday, she wrote that she would love Sam forever and that his death was still not real to her.

Katrina Sam-English, 22

Katrina Sam-English, Hunter Sam’s sister, was the mother of two young children, M’aliyah, 5, and Alan, 3. She married husband Alan English in July 2009 in Ahousaht after dating him for six years.

Sam-English and her mother, Ruth Sam, are listed on the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort’s website as housekeepers. Her father, and Ruth’s husband, Qaamina Sam, is listed as a skipper and guide at the Tofino resort.

Samantha Mattersdorfer, 24

Samantha Mattersdorfer was Hunter Sam and Katrina Sam-English’s cousin. She enjoyed golfing and going for walks and was a fan of the Vancouver Canucks. A May 23 Facebook status update indicated she was heading to Tofino that day.

Damon York, 33 (pilot)

Damon York, of Tofino, worked as a mechanic and engineer before becoming a pilot.

In 2008, York and his sister, Lindsey, took first place in the 30-kilometre short-course mixed pairs category at the Mind Over Mountain Adventure Race at Shawnigan Lake, which included mountain biking, trail running and rappelling off a cliff.

York’s family erected a Facebook page in his memory Sunday, noting he died doing what he loved.

&quot;My heart is broken for you all and so sharing in your loss,&quot; Dorena Rosenburg wrote. &quot;So glad to have met him and he was such an awesome person.&quot;

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With files from Todd Coyne

HangZhou Night Net

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