Drama in Deep Bay

Oyster fishermen save pair, one a paraplegic from Errington who was knocked unconscious, after ultralight flips

Our thanks to Pattie and Steve Biro of the Ship and Shore Restaurant in Deep Bay

Our thanks to Pattie and Steve Biro of the Ship and Shore Restaurant in Deep Bay

Two oyster fishermen were at the right place at the right time — and with the right gear — when an ultralight aircraft flipped and crashed in Deep Bay Friday, trapping a disabled Errington man under water.

Oceanside RCMP Corporal Jesse Foreman reported the crash happened on May 31 at 3:25 p.m. as the craft attempted to take off.

“The plane looked like a little Zodiac boat with a huge engine on the back and a three-bladed propeller,” Foreman said. “The two oyster fishermen were Johnny on the spot. They went over at full speed and hooked onto it and if they hadn’t been there he would have died.”

Tom Plensky was one of the two fishermen who raced to the rescue.

“This flying boat looked very dangerous to me,” he said. “I saw them before they launched. Ron Osmond and myself were working on his oyster raft and we had with us an oyster skiff with a long boom on it and a winch. We were finished and on our way in and we saw the plane flying around. He came back in and got this fellow out of his wheelchair and out into the flying boat. They tried to take off but they didn’t have enough jam. I saw them trying to turn and I said they’re going to tip over.”

As soon as the wing dipped slightly, the craft flipped, trapping the passenger, Errington resident Dwayne Bopfinger, under the water.

“I told Ron to give ‘er and he headed full bore to the scene. It took us two or three minutes to get there and I had the winch running and the button and the hook in my hands and I hooked it up in three to five seconds and then the plane was up on the boom and I could reach the person in the passenger seat.”

Bopfinger was unconscious, so it was a desperate race against time to get him out of the water. “I pulled him real hard,” Plensky said. “He was not responsive so I held his head and shoulders above the water. I hope I didn’t hurt him because I pulled really hard.”

With the help of the pilot,  Prince George resident Steve LeBleu, who had managed to extricate himself from the wreck, the two men freed the victim and hauled him onto the skiff.

“When we pulled him in, his hand started to move and he started to breathe,” Plensky said. “Then we had to get the other fellow into the boat.”

Plensky and Osmond weren’t the only people who saw the crash and within minutes Tim Mitchell and another man came out in a speedboat to help.

“We transferred them into the boat and Tim phoned 9-1-1,” Plensky said. “The ambulance and first responders were almost at the dock when they got in.”

Foreman said Bopfinger was treated by B.C. Ambulance paramedics at the scene and was released without any apparent injuries.

Bopfinger said it was the most frightening experience of his life.

“Before we had a chance to take off, as we were taxiing along the water, a gust of wind caught the wing and flipped the boat over,” he said. “I was seat-belted in and the belt was a type I hadn’t seen before, with a really weird mechanism. I couldn’t get it undone. Steve was grabbing for me and I was grabbing for him and for the seat belt and then I blacked out.”

Bopfinger said he knows he owes his life to his rescuers.

“They are heroes,” he said. “I want to thank them. They are special guys — men of action who didn’t wait. I owe them my life.”

Foreman agreed.

“The two local fishermen who responded without question and managed to rescue the submerged and unconscious man are heroes and should be congratulated for saving a man’s life,” he said.

Bill Yearwood, the regional manager for the Transportation Safety Board, said the board looked into the incident but has since closed the file.