Canada — A 62-year-old pilot whose plane crashed near Miramichi Airport early Friday afternoon is being remembered as a well-respected and courageous firefighter.
Ron Clowes, a pilot from Grand Falls with Forest Protection Ltd., was conducting a practice flight in a water bomber when the plane crashed shortly after taking off from the airport, just before 2 p.m.
He was the only person in the plane, and no other injuries were reported.
The plane reportedly clipped the tops of some trees before crashing close to a building at Envirem Technologies, a peat moss facility near the airport.
The Miramichi police, fire department, and airport emergency crews quickly descended on the scene, which was littered with debris from the downed aircraft.
David Davies, managing director for Forest Protection Ltd., said in an interview Friday evening he had no information on what might have caused the plane to go down.
He said Clowe was an experienced pilot who had worked with the company for a decade putting out forest fires, and had 13,000-plus hours in the air.
“He was a very well-liked, well-respected person,” Davies said.
“The ground crew, the maintenance crew, everyone liked him.”
He said Clowes was flying a TBM Avenger aircraft, an American torpedo bomber first used in the Second World War, which the company had converted for forest fire service.
The company once held the largest civilian fleet of Avengers in the world, but has gradually sold them over the years, and now owns only three, Davies said.
Cpl. Todd Chadwick of the Miramichi police said in an interview late Friday that it will take time to determine the cause of the crash.
He said the Transportation Safety Board of Canada is scheduled to arrive this morning to begin their investigation, and that police will continue to secure the site until all the evidence has been gathered.
“It will be a lengthy investigation,” he said. “And of course, once (the evidence) is collected, they will need to analyze it before they can determine what happened.”
Forest Protection Ltd. is a joint government-industry company that conducts aerial fire protection, insect control and herbicide programs, with offices in both Fredericton and Miramichi.
Davies said everyone at the company is still reeling from the crash, and that Clowes’ family had been contacted.
“I spoke to a family member, a sister, and I think everybody now is in a state of shock,” he said.
“Our concern is for the family at this time. This has all been a very big shock for all of us.”
Davies said Clowes had battled countless fires during his years with the company and was a brave a pilot.
In a 2004 interview with Miramichi Monthly, Clowes recalled that he and his flying team had the opportunity to meet former United States president George Bush Sr., who flew an Avenger during the Second World War, and whose plane was shot down during combat.
Clowes said it was an experience he wouldn’t soon forget.
In the same interview, Clowes proudly recalled a major fire in Riverview he and his team successfully doused in June 2004.
“We dumped 70 loads, plus whatever the two planes from Quebec dropped,” he said. “I thought they were going to lose a whole row of houses and we saved every one of them.”
Clowes credited teamwork for the success the crew had in that fire.
“We try to give 100 per cent or nothing,” he said.
“I think the Riverview fire proved that.”
Davies said Clowes was getting ready for another season battling forest fires when his plane went down on Friday.