Saturday, Sept. 18, 1982

Thirty-five years ago, a plane crashed just a few metres below Danny Moore Creek near its confluence with Driftwood Creek. Local pilot Emil Mesich and his four passengers were killed.

An excerpt from the accident report explains what happened:

Two company aircraft, each carrying a party of hunters, departed the seaplane base on Tyee Lake near Smithers, bound for separate camps located relatively close together. The Otter was bound for Tatlatui Lake, 260 kilometres to the north. DJA, the larger of the two aircraft, was loaded with equipment belonging to both groups. As well as the pilot and four hunters and this equipment, it also carried two 200 litre fuel drums. The pilot was to drop off his passengers and then fly to the other camp. He did not arrive. An ELT signal was heard by the pilot of the smaller aircraft on his return flight to Tyee Lake.

Harry Kruisselbrink photo

Apparently, the Otter had crashed ten minutes after takeoff.

As well as the 55-year-old Mesich, four men from Illinois were killed: Dan Bonaguidi, 42, Steven Bonaguidi, 38, and John Marconi, 41, and Jay Ford Blunck, 42.

My husband Lynn and Richard Overstall planned to fly into Twobridge/Reiseter Lake that weekend. But the weather wasn’t great, so they decided instead to hike into Silverking Basin, where there was a cabin. I remember piling the boys, who were three and four years old, into the car before heading to town. As Lynn and I said goodbye, a float plane flew overhead. Lynn commented on how low it was flying and we watched it for a moment.

Later that day, I got a call from Jim Shorter, a neighbour who was also a pilot. He asked me who Lynn and Richard had flown withhow he knew their plans was just another small town mystery. I told him they’d changed their plans; he told me a plane had crashed in the Babines. It was one of those moments: fear, anger, fear, relief, fear. I hadn’t seen them set off up the road with their packs. Had they perhaps changed their minds? AngerI was mad at Jim for what felt like a fishing expedition. What if they had been on that plane? What the hell would he have said? The anger surprised me. Held back the fear for a while, but I needed to see those two walk out on Sunday afternoon to finally settle.

I’ll let Lynn tell his story:

In the late summer and early fall we see float planes from Tyee Lake pass over our place almost every day, ferrying hunters and fisherman to and  from Spatsizi and Tatlatui provincial parks. On the day of the crash I was splitting firewood while waiting for Richard to arrive. That’s when I heard the Otter, louder than usual, and flying lower … much lower. Odd, I thought, and then went back to swinging the splitting maul.

Richard arrived about 15 minutes later and we headed off up Driftwood Road. I can’t remember now how far one could drive up the road then—maybe to Sunny Point but no further. Anyway, it could not have been more than an hour after hearing the plane that we were well on our way into Silverking and, more importantly, passing Danny Moore Creek.

We spent an uneventful, but chilly night in the old Silverking bunkhouse, built by Ernie Hann in the 1930s, and headed home late the next morning. A short while after re-crossing the Danny Moore Bridge, about three km above what is now the summer parking lot, we saw several vehicles, including an RCMP truck, parked on the road. We heard the whine of a chain saw uphill through the trees on our right. We immediately headed in that direction but within about 100 metres got turned back by the RCMP. All the member would say was there had been a plane crash in the bush just above us.

That’s when I told Richard about the low flying Otter from the previous day and we both wondered if it was the same plane.

Harry Kruisselbrink, a long time search & rescue volunteer took this photo at the crash site. The broken trees are signs searchers look for when a plane goes missing in the bush.

That question was answered later the same day … Emil had intended to fly up Driftwood Canyon and over the head wall at the end of Silverking Basin. When he realized he couldn’t get the necessary altitude, he tried to turn around and that’s when everything went sideways. The plane sheared off the tops of several trees and plummeted to the ground. Everyone on board was killed. But it did not catch fire.

And that’s probably the thought that has stayed with me more than any other over the years. If the plane had caught fire it would have been about the same time Richard and I passed by the crash site. We would have come upon fire and smoke and much worse had we climbed to investigate.

That’s one of the reasons the crash still gives me the shivers.

Ted Turner photo

Another reason is because Emil Mesich was flying the plane that crashed and killed our beloved neighbour Sunny Biniowsky in November 1979. She and her partner, Fred Seychuk Sr., had moved up the road just a few months after we moved into our place. They’d escaped Toronto with Sunny’s two youngest children and decided to make a life in Driftwood Canyon, a choice that greatly added to our own enjoyment of creekside life.


Rabbit stew and plonk with wonderful friends. From l-r Gregory, Sunny, Fred, Ilya, Fred Jr. Sheila and Lynn. Ted Turner took the photo. Both Freds still live in Driftwood Canyon.

Sunny was planning to fill in for the teacher at Takla Lake and had flown in to check it out. I will never forget sitting on our couch with her boys while Fred and his son went to find out what had happened. Watching their pain as her death was confirmed. The reason for the crash was heartbreaking:

This is the story from the Prince George Citizen:

SMITHERS, B.C. (CP) – A single-engine plane carrying four persons crashed in northern B.C. Nov. 26 because the pilot misjudged the weight of a case of empty beer bottles and overloaded the craft, a coroner’s inquest ruled Monday.

The Cessna, owned by Smithers Air Services Ltd., crashed at Takla Lake, 130 kilometres north of Fort St. James, killing Horst Kratz, Lee Arnold and Sonia Biniowsky, all of Smithers.

Coroner Wilfred Carpenter and the five-member jury found that Emil Mesich, 52, the pilot and lone survivor, erroneously estimated the weight of a case of beer at four pounds when the actual weight was seven pounds.

Evidence showed 397 empty cases were picked up from a lake resort. The plane’s nose dipped shortly after take-off and the craft stalled and crashed.

The jury recommended that each charter flight be equipped with portable scales, that the centre of gravity for each flight be computed accurately and that sufficient cargo restraints be provided and used.

Unfortunately the jury’s recommendations were not followed on the 1982 flight and the few times I have flown into the northern bush, I have never been weighed, nor has my gear.

Planes are such fragile things. Skin stretched over a framework, over switches and valves and wiring as complicated and breakable as our own.

The people who fly these planes face tremendous pressure from their clients to get their passengers and freight into hard-to-reach places. Every takeoff and landing carries its own risks and many pilots have lost their lives because of it. Emil certainly did. As did, several years later, Jim Shorter, who was also a long time resident of the Driftwood Creek watershed. His wife, Eileen, still lives on the beautiful property between the Driftwood Creek bridge on the Telkwa Highroad and Malkow Lookout. We know so many who have died in small plane crashes, people who care deeply about the land they’re flying over, people who are dearly loved and much missed.


Harry Kruisselbrink photo

Indeed, it is often the dramatic terrain these planes traverse that gets them into difficultywho knows if Emil wanted to show off the beautiful passage that Driftwood Creek has carved on its way out of the Babines or if the hunters wanted to catch a glimpse of goats on the headwall in Silverking Basin, the place they like to frequent in the fallthe one that proved too high for Emil that day.

If he’d gone around through McKendrick Pass the flight might have been uneventful.

Gisela Mendel took us up to the crash site many years later, the bright yellow wreckage still clearly visible. You could still see where the trees were clipped as the plane tried to turn. It was so quiet there, painful to imagine the roar of the engine, the trees splintering, the wings tearing and the final impact. And then, because there was no fire, nor any survivors, the quiet returning as the broken branches settled, the hot metal cooled, the tick, tick, tick subsiding into the usual fall sounds: the trickle in the nearby creek, a nuthatch’s nasal squawk, a jay’s screech, perhaps some wind groaning through the sub-alpine fir. And just a few metres away, two men passing on the road into Silverking Basin.

19 thoughts on “Saturday, Sept. 18, 1982

  1. Yes, it was on a Saturday, September 18, 1982, (my birthday!), that we were planning to fly into Fred Wright Lake for about four days of stream surveys. We tried to charter Emil, s Otter, but he said he was too busy flying American hunters or fishermen that day. So instead we drove to Prince Rupert and chartered Jack Anderson, s Fairchild Husky. My ex-wife, who had gone to work early that morning, was not aware of our change of plans and for hours feared the worst later that day….. Years later, I hiked into the crash site, and for many years I kept a small piece of the Otter; have not seen it for a long time; may still have it somewhere……

  2. I really appreciate you writing this blog. I was 15 when this accident happened. My dad was Jay Ford Blunck. I came across this blog post by googling my dad’s name on the 36th anniversary of his death. I would like to hear more about this if you are willing to communicate with me. I also would like to get up to the Smithers area some day and view the site for myself. I hold no anymosity toward any one involved with this accident, it was a long time ago.

  3. I apologize if there are repeated comments from me, but I do not see the one I left previously. I really appreciate you posting this blog. I was 15 years old when this accident happened. Jay Ford Blunck was my Dad. For some reason after all these years, I chose to google my dad’s name on the 36th anniversary of his death. This allowed me to stumble upon this post. I am fascinated that there are people in that area that remember that day. I would love to hear more about the area, the crash, and your memories, should you be willing to communicate with me. I hold no animosity toward anyone or anything involved in this accident. I made peace with it a long time ago. I just want to uncover all the pieces.

    • Hi Michael. It sometimes takes me a day or two to approve comments. The memories that I have are contained here in the blog; other than reading reports, etc. I’m not sure where to suggest you look. It was a very sad event – and it did shake us up. But these bush plane crashes happen all too often and are always heartbreaking. If you do decide to come this way, let me know and I can give you directions to the crash site, though I haven’t been there in years.

  4. Hi Shelia and Michael. My dad, Steve Bonaguidi was one of the other hunters on the plane. I too appreciate this post and would like to learn more about that fateful day. I’m surprised to learn that the wreckage is still there. For some reason that I cannot explain, I too would like to visit the site. I’d be grateful if you would each share your contact info with me through Shelia. Thank you, Bill

    • Hi there, I can certainly understand wanting to see the place – and it is in beautiful country. But I can only imagine what a terrible last few minutes that unlucky group faced. I’ll be happy to connect you with Michael – send me your email address via the contact info on my webpage and I’ll try to track his down too – but I’ll be asking him first, just to be sure.

  5. This post is a year or two late But I thought I’d try, thankyou for the article, very informative. I was scheduled to be on that ill fated Otter flight, but the guide outfitter I worked for had decided the night before to hire an extra flight to take more gear to our camp. I had till morning to choose which flight to go on and decided to go on the later Cessna 185 flight. My wife thought I was on the Otter. After I got into the remote camp no one would talk about the crash and I had no idea what happened for 5 days. Our cook was the niece of Emil so it was natural everyone was reticent. Meanwhile my wife thought I had died on the Otter and had no way to find out otherwise due to the complete silence on the issue. Finally I managed to get a radio message to her that I was alive. But the scare broke up our marriage. My heartfelt condolences to those who lost people on the Otter. I had many close calls flying into the north country over the years. Weather and overloading were the main risk factors.

    I found this about the Otter’s history:

    • Hi James. What a frightening time for everyone involved. Thanks for adding your story. I’m curious about who you were guiding for and what camp you were headed for. Do you live in the area? Where I now live (Powell River), the Beavers go over five, six times a day ferrying passengers up to Savary Island, Desolation Sound, the mid-coast. Otters too.

      • I’m a little late sorry Sheila. I was working at Kluayaz Lake (SE of Mt Klappan) for a Swiss guide outfitter who’s name I’ve forgotten now. He also had a fishing lodge on the Kispiox River at the time. I lived in Fraser Lake area for a few decades, then Prince George for a few more and flew up north with various air services to remote camps across Northern BC for various jobs over the years. Most of my flights were in Cessna 185s with the occasional Beaver and helicopter depending on location of job.

  6. Hi Sheila: I just discovered your blog and am so glad that I did. I remember both these terrible incidences. I had met Sunny and liked her so much. Thank you for the pictures. What a wild and wonderful country it is up there, and what wonderful people we knew. I think I will always miss it.

  7. Hi Shelia, (to Bill & Michael also)

    I, too, have a connection to that fateful day. My brother in law Dan Bonaguidi was married to my sister Judi Jenkins Bonaguidi. They have 2 boys, Michael & Joseph Bonaguidi. I will never forget that day and appreciate your blog. Reflecting on my own mom’s death, Rita Jenkins, on September 18, 2021, I decided to google, for some reason, Dan Bonaguidi, 9/20/1982 (her son in law). I was amazed to see your blog 9/20/2017. The boys were only 2 and 4 when their dad died and my sister never recovered. She tried so hard, but unfortunately died from cancer age 34 when the boys were 7 and 9. That’s when I came into the picture as she had appointed me legal guardian of her children. I was 28. I appreciate the details of your blog for all of us. There were 11 children that lost their dad that day, and countless family members that lost their loved ones … 4 good friends JAY, JOHN, DAN and STEVE (the last two eldest brothers in the family). My hope is that your words will give a sense of peace to all. Thank you! Janice M Jenkins

    • Janice, it’s so good to hear that this five-year-old post is still finding people and filling in some gaps. It was a terrible day for many communities. Your sister and brother-in-law were lucky to have you step in for their boys – please pass on my regards.

  8. I also have a strong connection with this tragedy. My loving Brother John Marconi died in this crash leaving four children ages 1 to 6. It always stuck in my mind that John had mixed feelings the day before leaving on this trip but he didn’t want to disappoint his buddies by canceling. Thank You so much for this story because we didn’t receive much information about this crash. I miss John so much he was like a father to me. Kind Regards Jim Marconi

  9. Everytime I read this piece, my soul is deeply moved. The article is written with beauty and sensitivity…and sheds light on one of the most poignant moments in my life: the loss of my mother, Sonia “Sunny” Biniowsky. Thank you, Sheila and Lynn.

    • Thanks so much, Greg. That day still reverberates through our lives too. I remember seeing her car coming down the road past our place and thinking, oh, Sunny’s home. And then remembering. Such sorrow. Hope you’re well.

      • Sheila… I would very much like to be able to chat with you and Lynn about your memories of my mom. Of course, I have many memories of my mom, since I was eleven years old when the plane crash happened. But I would like to hear the memories of others who knew her well, people who can tell me stories about her unique energy and personality. Please email me, so we can set up a call…my email is Thanks. Gregory

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