Indigenous leader grateful to survive after finding herself 'hanging upside down' in flipped float plane

·3 min read
An Atleo River Air float plane flipped during takeoff on Monday July 26, 2021. The five people on board were not seriously injured. (Lacey Adams/Facebook - image credit)
An Atleo River Air float plane flipped during takeoff on Monday July 26, 2021. The five people on board were not seriously injured. (Lacey Adams/Facebook - image credit)

A Cessna A185F float plane with four passengers flipped in the water near the Tofino shore on Monday, forcing people to scramble out on a sandbar.

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president Judith Sayers, who was a passenger on the plane, says she's sore but "grateful" to be alive after a trip out of Tofino went wrong.

Sayers said that she was sitting beside the pilot up front and noticed the plane began rocking and tilting from side to side as the aircraft accelerated for takeoff.

"The next thing I know I'm there hanging upside down in the plane and my face is in the water," said Sayers, who then described how she had to struggle several times to lift her head out of the salt water — to get air to breathe.

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council
Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council

"I did that a couple of times and then I couldn't do it anymore. I guess water was coming in? I couldn't breathe anymore and I felt hands under my head lifting my head out of the water."

Those were the hands of her 31-year-old son.

"He saved my life," said Sayers of Port Alberni.

Cole Sayers is a Hupacasath First Nations man who heads the B.C. Indigenous Clean Energy Initiative.

Clean Energy BC
Clean Energy BC

He, his mother and two other people were flying from Tofino to Hesquiaht to assess an idea for a clean energy project. She says the float plane seemed to take a long time taxiing out for take off — hitting waves and rocking back and forth. Sayers expected the pilot to gain control but described the shock when instead the plane suddenly flipped.

"I didn't think that would happen. I have no clue I just really don't know what caused it."

Sayers says her son undid her seatbelt and somebody helped her get out of the plane's small window and she sat on the wing feeling dizzy and disoriented until the coast guard came in Zodiaks to help rescue the passengers.

She posted online how "precious" life is after the harrowing experience that drew help from boaters, passersby and what she described as impressive emergency services workers.

Sayers says her ribs are sore and she had an egg-like bump from a contusion on her right leg. Her son has a sore back, neck and his hand was cut, she suspects from glass from the windshield that shattered in the crash. She believes the pilot injured his head.

Atleo River Air Services base manager Misty Lawson confirmed to CBC that the Cessna was taking off near the shore around 11:40 a.m. when it flipped after she said it hit a large boat wake. Lawson said that the plane became airborne prematurely and tipped over on its nose. The aircraft was damaged.

All five people on board the small plane were checked out or treated at hospital but escaped with minor injuries.

Lawson said the pilot was experienced.

The incident is being investigated by the federal Transportation Safety Board.

"I'm sore ... but was jut so happy to watch a beautiful sunset last night, " Sayers told Stephen Quinn of CBC's The Early Edition Tuesday morning, expressing thanks to all those who helped the passengers and pilot escape.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting