The man who died in the plane crash Monday night in Abbotsford was immersed in the flying world.
Marty Lehner was a member of the Abbotsford Flying Club (AFC), was on the board of directors for the Abbotsford Airshow, and was the B.C. dealer for Pipistrel Aircraft based in Slovenia.
AFC vice-president Adrian Renkers said club members were devastated to learn about the death of Lehner, who was a valued addition to the close-knit group.
“He was very jovial, outgoing and a bubbly kind of person,” Renkers said.
He said Lehner regularly turned out for the AFC’s TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday) social gatherings at its clubhouse at the Abbotsford Airport, as well as to breakfast on Sunday mornings, followed by a group flight.
Renkers described Lehner as a “very competent pilot” who was working on obtaining his instrument rating, which requires additional training beyond what is required for a private apilot certificate.
Renkers said Lehner owned four planes – a Cessna 150, a Cessna 180, a Piper Cub and a Pipistrel Virus SW 100.
Lehner’s family is also heavily involved in flying. His son Adam, who competes as a barefoot water skier, has aspirations to become a career pilot, and his daughter, Erika, has her private pilot’s licence.
Lehner, owner of a sprinkler installation company, was flying the Virus – described as a light two-seater aircraft – on Monday night, departing from Abbotsford Airport en route to Pitt Meadows, where he was planning to view another plane for possible purchase, according to Renkers.
He said Lehner departed Abbotsford at 4:09 p.m. for the 13-minute flight.
Lehner lost contact with the control tower, and an emergency beacon began sending a signal from northwest Abbotsford at about 4:30 p.m.
Crews were initially alerted to the area of Mt. Lehman and Downes roads.
Abbotsford Police, two search and rescue teams, and a Cormorant helicopter from Canadian Forces Base Comox were involved in the search over the next few hours.
At one point, crews searched a property in the 4500 block of Bradner Road after the homeowner reported seeing smoke and fire and thought it might be the plane wreckage. It turned out to be a false lead.
Online reports at one point also indicated that the Cormorant had located the wreckage, but Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald said those reports were incorrect.
He said the search efforts, which involved about 30 people, were hampered by the pelting rain, wind, darkness and rough terrain.
He said crews were also receiving “false and inaccurate readings” from the beacon, making it difficult to pinpoint the plane’s exact location.
The aircraft was located in a densely wooded area near a mushroom farm at about 9 p.m., and it was determined that the Lehner had likely clipped some power lines prior to crashing.
The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) is investigating the incident, although its role is not to assign fault or to determine liability.
TSB spokesman Bill Yearwood said Lehner was given clearance to fly in Monday’s inclement weather, but soon after taking off, he informed the control tower that he was turning back due to the bad conditions.
Yearwood said the TSB has not yet been confirmed which direction he was travelling at the time of the crash, but Renkers said Lehner had turned around at around 264 Street and was heading back to the airport.
Yearwood said Lehner was travelling within “visual flight rules” (VFR), a set of regulations which require a pilot to be able to fly an aircraft using visual references to avoid terrain and obstacles.
According to Transport Canada guidelines, specific weather minimums are required to fly VFR, and visibility must be three miles, but permission can be granted to depart a control zone with less visibility than that – for example, if conditions are better at the destination airport.
Yearwood said information from the TSB investigation will be included in a public report released either through the TSB or, more likely, through the BC Coroners Service. He said this will likely take several months.
Meanwhile, Renkers said the Abbotsford Flying Club will talk about how to best to honour their comrade.
He said they will likely hold a celebration of life at the clubhouse and do a “missing man formation” fly-over.
In addition to his two children, Lehner is survived by his wife, Ashie, whom he married in 2008.