The Vancouver Island pilot who died in a crash north of Tofino just before Christmas was a seasoned flier and longtime member of the Courtenay Airpark Association.
Hal (Heinz) Schulz, in his 70s, was a veteran pilot from Comox who took out his plane regularly from the Courtenay Airpark.
“He was probably our single most-active pilot. He flew almost every day,” said friend and fellow pilot Darwin Dzuba. “He’s also probably one of our longest-standing members.”
Dzuba, who serves on the Courtenay Airpark Association’s board of directors, and had his hangar next to Schulz’s, says Schulz was a member of the association and the local flying community for many years.
“I remember him telling me that when he first started flying out of the airpark, it was a gravel strip,” he said. “That was a while back.”
Schulz had been working on contract in an aircraft modified with oxygen for high altitudes, to collect air samples for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) used for weather modeling.
“They use private pilots from all over North America to get air samples,” Dzuba said.
In recent years, Schulz also submitted aerial photos to the Comox Valley Record of events such as the annual herring run in the region.
“He was always very accommodating when it came to sharing photos with the paper,” said Record editor Terry Farrell. “First day of the herring run, he’d be in the office by noon with photos.
“The first time I met Hal was in 2014, during the huge flood we had in December of that year. He came by the office with his camera memory card full of photos showing aerial views of the flooded areas of Courtenay.”
Schulz had been flying Saturday, Dec. 21 and was due back around 1:30 p.m. but never arrived. Comox Valley RCMP were notified around 4 p.m. that he was missing. Police contacted several airports on Vancouver Island, but Schulz had not turned up at any of them.
19 Wing Comox confirmed its search and rescue division was called in to help. SAR Tech members from 442 Squadron out of Comox arrived on a Cormorant helicopter at the site and a ground crew found the missing Cessna 172 shortly after 9 a.m. the following morning at Hot Springs Cove near Sydney Inlet Provincial Park.
The park lies northwest of Tofino.
Also on Dec. 22, the BC Coroners Office confirmed there was one fatality in the crash.
Dzuba had heard the wreckage from the crash was moved because of the remoteness of the site.
“Now we just need to wait for the Transportation Safety Board to do their investigation to determine the cause,” he said.
The Transportation Safety Board clarified it is the responsibility of insurers if any wreckage is moved from the site to conduct the investigation. The TSB will also have a team fly to the site as soon as possible, then determine the level of investigation.
“The first step was to recover the wreckage,” says TSB spokesperson Alex Fournier. “The next step is to decide what we’re going to do.”
(Note: This story has been edited since first posted to clarify the TSB’s and insurers’ roles in the investigation.)