Veteran pilot’s breakdown shocks community

RCMP and airbase manager weigh in on incident involving a pilot destroying a helicopter northwest of Terrace

People who knew the Lakelse Air pilot who suffered what the police report called a “severe emotional breakdown” say they didn’t see it coming.

The company’s operation manager said that the employee was also a close friend.

“He’s an amazing pilot, I’ve known him for a long time,” James Carr said, “Nobody saw this coming. He’s one of my very good friends so it makes it even harder. This is something that came out of left field.”

On July 12, the Dease Lake RCMP detachment flew officers into a Fortune Minerals exploration camp in the Klappan Mountain area, approximately 103 km southeast of Dease Lake, to respond to a call about a pilot shooting a gun at a helicopter owned by his employer, reported police July 18.

The man, who according to police had veteran-level 7,000 hours flying experience, was armed with a shotgun and safety flares, and rode an ATV up and down the camp air strip with witnesses saying they observed him shooting the gun several times at the helicopter and attempting to set it on fire, said police.

Corporal Brian Blair, who was one of two police officers flown in to the remote camp, said that there were no violence done except to the equipment, but that there were questions surrounding the shotgun.

“It’s part of the ongoing investigation,” Blair said about the fact that the pilot had a gun in the tent with him. “From my understanding there is only supposed to be one firearm in camp, and that’s part of the investigation.”

Blair said that it isn’t unusual for people going into the backcountry to bring a gun for safety. “You know there’s grizzlies and black bears with cubs so it’s not unusual for people to have firearms up here,” he said.

“We’re trying to understand it. The pilot is very well respected,” Blair said.

“There was parts of it that was logical but there was the disconnect between what happened and his logic,” Blair said. “It was really an odd situation, because he seems very articulate and very intelligent very hard working, very responsible, but what he was talking about wasn’t tied in to what happened.”

Officers arrested the 37-year-old Ontario man without incident and transported him to the Dease Lake RCMP detachment for a full assessment of any medical needs by a medical practitioner.

He continued to be assessed by doctors at the end of last week.

The man was released from police custody with a promise to appear in court August 27 in Dease Lake with a proposed charge of mischief, said police.

Police continue to investigate and said firearm-related charges may be considered as well.