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Two people dead after small plane slams into Okanagan sports field

RCMP and the coroner look through the burnt wreckage of a twin engine plane crash at Marshall Field in Vernon, B.C., Saturday, July 7, 2012.

Jeff Bassett/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Moments after taking off into the bright, sunny skies of British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, a small twin engine plane clipped two trees and slammed into a sports field, killing the two people on-board Saturday, say witnesses to the tragedy.

"I heard this explosion, looked over to see this aircraft burst into flames," said Gord Molendyk, a spokesman for the Vernon North Okanagan RCMP, who was in the area at the time

"There was fire, along the ground, right up to the aircraft."

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Mr. Molendyk was supposed to be attending a wedding nearby early Saturday afternoon when he saw the aftermath of the accident.

He said the plane took off from the airport, hit the tops of two trees that were no more than eight metres high and flew over the edge of the field, before slamming into the ground and bursting into flames.

Mr. Molendyk said nobody on the ground was hurt.

The RCMP said in a release late Saturday night that the pilot was from Kelowna and that he was 59 years old. His passenger was described only as being 55 years old and from the Port Moody area. No names were released.

Bill Wilkie, vice-president of the Vernon Flying Club, was flying at the time of the crash and witnessed the aftermath of the tragedy from high above the scene.

"All I saw was this big plume of black smoke going up, oh, probably 500 feet and big, you know, flames at the bottom, bright yellow flames at the bottom," he said. "So you couldn't tell where the flames were coming from."

The victims, who had just filled up their aircraft with gas, weren't members of the local flying club, said Mr. Wilkie, noting he doesn't believe they were associated with skydivers who were in the area, either.

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There was also no word on Saturday about where the plane had been headed.

Mr. Wilkie said he had to fly over the scene a second time before he could tell that a plane had crashed, and he suspects an engine may have failed.

"I suspect that it all happened so quickly for those fellows that they wouldn't know, they wouldn't have chance to respond, do anything, they'd just kind of grit their teeth and that's it," he said.

Police and the Coroners Service of British Columbia are investigating the crash and the Transportation Safety Board has been contacted.

Emergency personnel were able to put out the fire but the two people aboard the aircraft died at the scene, Mr. Molendyk said.

The weather at the time of the crash was sunny and dry, he said.

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The wreckage of the aircraft has been removed from the crash site and police are asking anyone who may have seen or heard the crash to contact them.

"A couple of skydivers may have recordings of some of the incidents that happened prior to the crash," Mr. Molendyk said. "We're going to have anybody that saw anything or happened to be in the close area, if you have a photo or whatever, I'm sure it would be beneficial."

Capt. Greg Clarke of the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Victoria said an emergency beacon went off around 1 p.m. and identified the aircraft as a twin-engine Piper 23.

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