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Pemberton glider pilot among dead in air tragedy

Powered glider and Cessna collide mid-air; Rudy Rozsypalek confirmed dead

Friends of one of the victims of the June 29 mid-air collision between a powered glider and Cessna have confirmed one of the victims was Pemberton's Rudy Rozsypalek, owner and operator of the Pemberton Soaring Centre.

Rozsypalek, a father of two who founded the glider business with his wife in 1993, was reportedly giving a glider tour to an Indian national visiting Canada. An uncle of the passenger in the glider telephoned Pique from India and confirmed that his 21 year-old nephew, Mohnish Gagan Paul, was in the glider.

A Czech national, Rozsypalek was an outspoken advocate for the Pemberton Airport, with three decades of experience as a pilot.

Vinu Paul, the uncle of the passenger in the glider, said his family in India was struggling to understand how such an accident could happen. Another relative of the 21 year-old Paul said the fourth year engineering student was on vacation in Canada.

Campers at Nairn Falls took cover as debris fell from the sky Saturday afternoon after two aircraft collided in the sky above the provincial campground south of Pemberton.

Sgt. Rob Knapton of the Whistler/Pemberton RCMP said a powered glider and a Cessna collided at about 12:20 p.m. on June 29. He confirmed that four people inside the aircraft were killed in the collision.

Knapton said RCMP members responded after a number of 911 calls were made from the provincial park campground, which was completely full at the time of the incident.

“The Cessna was from 100 mile house with two occupants, one male and one female, with a dog on board,” said Sgt. Knapton.

He added that there was a dog in the Cessna. The glider was based in Pemberton. No names have been released at this point.

Knapton confirmed that BC Ambulance responded along with the Pemberton Fire Department and Search and Rescue personnel. A Cormorant helicopter was dispatched from 19 Wing Comox to assist along with a BC Air Ambulance helicopter and a RCMP helicopter.

"Both planes caught on fire at some point in time," said Knapton.

The fires were dealt with by Pemberton firefighters, Knapton said. He added that the debris didn't hit anyone on the ground.

"The information that I have at this time is that no one was hurt. There was quite a bit of debris that came down in the campground and is still around the campsites," Knapton said.

Vickie Nickel of Squamish was enjoying a long weekend of camping at Nairn Falls with her family when she heard a loud bang. She came out of her trailer to see part of a plane sail by in the air above her. A camper in the site across the road warned Nickel to take cover.

"He started hollering for me to get inside," said Nickel. "What he could see from his vantage point was that there was burning debris and a whole bunch of stuff raining down, coming towards us, that I couldn't see."

According to Nickel, she could hear debris pelting the top of her trailer while she took cover. A plane door slammed down onto the ground three metres from her trailer where she had been standing a moment earlier. A large piece of aircraft landed in a treed area a few more metres away. Nickel said she didn't see much and most of the drama for her was from the noise and commotion outside her trailer.

Despite the tragedy, Nickel said she planned to stay for the weekend. She said she was instructed to stay until the investigators finished piecing together what happened in the sky over the provincial park.

West Vancouver-Sea to Sky MLA and Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy came by to learn more and he described the incident as a terrible tragedy for the community.

"Given the circumstances, recognizing the tragedy that it is, in some respects we are very lucky as well because debris was strewn all over a populated area and the tragedy could have been worse, as hard as that is to believe," said a shaken Sturdy.

Knapton said Transport Canada will conduct their own investigation. The debris from the collision landed in several different places. According to Knapton, a large part of the Cesna crashed on the other side of Green River from the camping area. He added that the BC Coroners Service is also investigating.

As an added precaution, a forest fire watch team monitored the crash area overnight and into Sunday morning. The temperature high on Saturday was 30 degrees Celsius.

Click on the photo above to see more photos from the scene and a picture of a powered glider.

Pique Newsmagazine will have updates online and in print on Thursday.