The Cowichan Lake area is mourning the death of one its stalwarts after a tragic plane crash this past Saturday.
Gerald Thom, 51, from Youbou, died in the accident after the two-seater plane he had built with close friend Michael Weir, took off from Nanaimo Airport and crashed at nearby Cottonwood Golf Course.
Weir also died in the incident and with just the two men on-board, it is unclear thus far who was piloting the plane.
Thom was known for his tireless work along the Cowichan River and had a passion for protecting the local watershed.
He was president of the Cowichan Lake River Stewardship Society and played an instrumental role in the Lake Studies program at Lake Cowichan School.
Earlier this year he was crowned Citizen of the Year for 2013 by the Cowichan Lake District Chamber of Commerce.
Local biologist Bob Crandall from the Cowichan Lake Salmonid Enhancement Society said he was “stunned” by the news.
“Gerald Thom and I have many combined efforts/projects on the go at this time,” said Crandall in an email. “I am trying to find ways to patch together supervision of ongoing projects without Gerald. We, together on Monday in a meeting to fight for local control of our water, made a lot of progress with the province. On Friday morning just before we were with Gerald exchanging tools His work crew who were planting LCFN waterfront with native plants while removing blackberry and broom. We always had differences of opinion yet always worked together for the greater good of the environment. We had many successes despite our differences. We always championed joined efforts. He will be missed. Environmental stewardship of our lake and river have lost a strong soldier.
RCMP were called to the scene at approximately 7 p.m. Saturday evening.
“An ultralight plane, which crashed during takeoff from the airport, killed both passengers on board. RCMP are assisting the Transportation Safety Board and the BC Coroners Service with their investigations,” read an RCMP release.
Like Crandall, Mayor Ross Forrest was equally shocked and saddened by the loss of Thom.
“It’s a huge loss,” said Forrest. “Gerald was the ultimate champion of water and sustainability in our community. Water and flying were his two passions. He was a great individual and will be a tough guy to replace.”
Parker Jefferson from One Cowichan described Thom as “a tremedous advocate for lake and river stewardship concerns.”
“It’s a tragic loss to our community,” said Jefferson. “He was the leader behind the river stewardship society. We are going to miss his tremendous enthusiasm and hard work, it’s big shoes to fill. We will obviously present our condolences to his family. He died pursuing something he loved.
“We have to continue our efforts believing that he is watching over us. Everyone is going to have to chip in that little bit more.”
Councillor Bob Day praised Thom’s work ethic too.
“He was a guy that got a lot done without being a bully and was the ultimate diplomat for his cause,” said Day.