Update: Abbotsford company responds to pilot's death

The pilot who died while fighting the forest fires in Slave Lake, Alta. was an "extremely experienced and intelligent man," according to the Abbotsford company that hired him.

Laura Siemens, operations manager of Campbell Helicopters, said Jean-Luc Deba, 54, of Montreal was a recent, but valued, addition to the company. He had been hired for the upcoming fire season.

"We are all heartbroken with this loss," Siemens said.

Founding president Bruce Campbell expressed condolences to Deba's family and friends and everyone who was involved in the rescue efforts.

"This is a tragic time for our company, our employees and their families," he said.

In its 27 years of operation, Campbell Helicopters has never before experienced a serious injury or fatality, he added.

Deba was piloting a Bell 212 helicopter when he crashed in the waters of Lesser Slave Lake, near Canyon Creek, at about 3:30 p.m. on Friday, May 20.

The chopper had been privately contracted by the Alberta government to assist with firefighting efforts. It crashed about 30 metres offshore in shallow water. Attempts to get to Deba resulted in some emergency crew members being treated for hypothermia.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada expects to take up to a year to conclude its investigation into the crash.


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