An image from a 2010 search conducted by John Letourneau of Langley. He has joined the hunt for wreckage from an aircraft that reportedly went down in the Fraser River on Saturday, June 6, 2020 (John Letourneau/special to Langley Advance Times)

Search for missing plane is familiar territory for one B.C. man

John Letourneau says it is the same stretch of river that claimed artist Toni Onley’s life in 2004

A Langley man who helped locate the wreckage of a plane piloted by famous B.C. artist Toni Onley in 2004 is trying to find a plane that went down last week in the very same stretch of the Fraser River near Langley and Maple Ridge.

Walnut Grove resident John Letourneau has taken his boat out twice in the last week to scan the river with the same sonar equipment that was used to locate the Onley plane.

“My stuff is not the newest but it’s advanced,” Letourneau told the Langley Advance Times.

He is doing it on his own, with the assistance of friend Yuri Tofini.

“It’s a needle in a haystack,” Tofini observed.

“We’re hoping to make the haystack a little smaller.” Letourneau commented.

READ MORE: Search for plane in Fraser River continues five days after crash

RCMP said a small aircraft was reported seen by a witness on June 6, a Saturday afternoon, flying low above the Fraser River before it went into the water and disappeared from view in the area of 287th Street and Lougheed Highway.

Later that same day, Boundary Bay Airport near Ladner reported a small plane with two people on board was overdue.

RCMP said the plane was similar in size and colour to the one seen by the witness.

So far, Letourneau hasn’t found any traces of the aircraft.

“The river is running quite fast, so it’s not the best time to be looking for a plane.”

READ MORE: No sign of plane that reportedly crashed into Fraser River between Langley and Maple Ridge

Letourneau, a retired firefighter with his own plane who lives on the banks of the Fraser River, said he first learned about the crash when police knocked on his door to see if it was his aircraft.

After seeing where the police boats were concentrated, he estimates the plane likely came down within about 1,000 feet of the location where Onley crashed.

“They’re looking in the same waters,” Letourneau declared.

That moved him to make his own search, independent of police.

He’s been volunteering to help search for downed aircraft for years, using what he describes as a hobby, his sideband and sector sonar scanning gear.

“We’re interested in getting closure for the family,” Letourneau said.

Letourneau added it would be valuable to to know what exactly the lone witness to the crash saw, such as the precise direction of travel, if the plane came near local power lines and other details that might allow searchers to narrow down possible locations where the wreckage could be found.

Onley, well-known for his paintings of northern and west coast Canadian scenery died at the age of 76 in a plane crash on the Fraser River near Maple Ridge, while practising takeoffs and landings in a Lake LA-4-200 Buccaneer amphibious plane.



dan.ferguson@langleyadvancetimes.com

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