Marmots may have caused Vernon plane crash, pilot says

Marmots may be to blame for a plane crash on a Vernon, B.C., soccer field on Saturday that killed two people, at least one pilot says.

The twin-engine Piper Apache crashed into the empty field near Vernon's airport shortly after take-off around 1:30 p.m. PT. Witnesses said they heard the engine sputter before the plane fell from the sky, clipping trees and bursting into flames.

A Kelowna man, 59, and his passenger, a 55-year-old man from the Port Moody area, died on impact. Fortunately, the sports field was empty and no one else was involved in the accident.

The B.C. Coroner's Service has not officially released the identities of the victims, but the plane is registered to Shaida Langley of Kelowna, B.C. She was not one of the passengers at the time of the crash, officials have said.

The Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the crash, but some local pilots say they already have some suspicions of their own.

The plane was kept at the Kelowna airport, where marmots have been damaging planes by chewing on their components, according to Ray Young, a member of the Kelowna Flying Club.

"We were all expecting something sooner or later because of the amount of damage they've been doing to almost 80 per cent of the airplanes that are parked out here," Young said.

"Our hearts go out to the families and it definitely shakes up the whole flying community when this kind of stuff happens," Young said.

It is not clear whether there is a connection between the marmots and the weekend crash, but the Kelowna airport says it has been trapping marmots as part of its wildlife management plan.

However, a man who says he trained the pilot to fly the Apache does not buy into the theory that marmots may be responsible.

Trevor Erhardt said the victim was very experienced and had significant flight training in twin-engine aircraft. He bought the plane with his wife to make excursions to Florida and the Caribbean, Erhardt said.

People close to the pilot say he modified his aircraft to make it safer, including increasing the size of the tail to improve directional control and stability in the event of an engine failure.

[ [ [['xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx', 11]], '27013743', '0' ], [ [['keyword', 9999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999]], 'videoID', '1', 'overwrite-pre-description', 'overwrite-link-string', 'overwrite-link-url' ] ]