Missing aircraft was piloted by Alex Simons, a 21 year old Kamloops man and accompanied by his companion Sidney Robillard, 24. (Contributed)

1 year after vanishing from the sky, B.C. pilot is remembered

Alex Simmons and Sydney Robillard were in a Piper Warrior aircraft that left Alberta on June 8, 2017

  • Jun. 30, 2018 10:00 a.m.

––Kamloops This Week

Denise Weisgerber remembers the conversation she had last year with her son, the day before he went missing while flying a small aircraft to Kamloops from Cranbrook.

“It was light and it was happy. He was telling us that he was coming down for vacation, he was going to visit for a while and then he was going to fly the Vancouver coast,” she told Kamloops This Week.

What followed instead was a full-scale search between Kamloops and Cranbrook for her son, Alex Simons, and his girlfriend, Sydney Robillard. They were in a Piper Warrior aircraft that left Lethbridge for Kamloops on June 8, 2017. It vanished following a refuelling stop in Cranbrook, the town of about 20,000 in the Kootenays.

Two weeks ago, a service was held for Simons at Holy Family Parish in Valleyview, It was attended by more than 75 friends and family members, some of whom travelled from as far away as Germany to pay their respects to the young man who grew up in Barnhartvale.

Weisgerber said the service felt like a necessary step in the healing process.

“It’s hard when you have nothing to pay respects to, it’s hard when there’s no body, it’s hard when you don’t have a formal funeral,” she said.

READ MORE: Nearly 20 planes search for aircraft that went missing en route to Kamloops

READ MORE: Military scale back search for missing pair

Weisgerber recalled beginning to worry at about 5 p.m. on that fateful day last year when she hadn’t heard from the two 21-year-olds, prompting her to make a few calls.

She called Lethbridge Airport, but when there was no answer, she phoned the local flight school at which Alex had trained, assuming he rented the aircraft there. She said the person she spoke with from the flight school hadn’t heard from Simons since he stopped in Cranbrook and they reported the plane missing on her behalf.

The plane took off from Lethbridge at 8:35 a.m. PDT on June 8, 2017. After stopping in Cranbrook, Simons and Robillard took to the air again at 2 p.m. Four hours later, the RCMP was called and told the plane did not arrive at Kamloops Airport.

Throughout the search, Weisgerber said she communicated with Lt.-Col. Bryn Elliott of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

“He called me every day to give me updates,” Weisgerber said.

A few weeks after the plane went missing, she met Elliott to go over the flight plans and area searched.

Throughout the first week, Weisgerber said she held out hope her son was alive, that he had landed the plane somewhere and that it was only a matter of finding the aircraft. But it was difficult to determine where the plane might have gone as the terrain is vast, rocky and heavily treed. Poor weather conditions in the first few days also hindered search efforts.

The Piper had an emergency beacon, but no viable signals were detected during the search. The plane has not been located.

About two weeks after the plane went missing, further search activity was suspended pending new evidence indicating a strong likelihood of locating survivors.

Over a 12-day search period, 18 Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and Civil Air Search and Rescue (CASARA) aircraft flew approximately 576 hours and covered some 37,513 square kilometres. Alongside more than 70 RCAF personnel were 137 volunteer pilots and spotters from CASARA, averaging 10 aircraft per day.

In the months following the search, Weisgerber did not receive updates, but said she was contacted by local police in January, requesting permission for Simons’ dental records. She said Kamloops Mounties described the request as routine and did not indicate they had found any evidence of the whereabouts of Simons, Robillard and the Piper.

“I don’t know why they waited,” Weisgerber said.

Weisgerber said the past year has been difficult for her, noting she has managed with the support of others.

“People have been so kind. My friends have been there and my family. Without support, it would have been so much more difficult,” Weisgerber said, adding she would like to extend her gratitude to Elliott, the many civilian pilots who searched for her son last year and family and friends.

Michael Potestio, Kamloops This Week

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Florencia beach clean near Tofino draws awesome crowd

Visitors from as far as Hawaii, Philippines, and Venezuela pitch in at Surfrider event.

West Coast leaders fear orca habitat protection could bring fishery closures

Ucluelet demands extension to DFO consultation process

Ukee set for second annual Gay Pride event

“It’s going to be a blast.”

Campfire ban coming into effect across West Coast

The Coastal Fire Centre says bans will begin on Wednesday

Ucluelet to reinstall rainbow crosswalks

Ucluelet council briefs from July 10 regular meeting.

VIDEO: Trudeau shuffles familiar faces, adds new ones to expanded cabinet

Justin Trudeau shuffles his front bench Wednesday to install the roster of ministers that will be entrusted with leading the Liberal team into next year’s election.

Wildfires erupt in B.C. Okanagan forcing evacuation orders and a highway closure

Check out a list of up-to-date information on blazes happening within the Kamloops Wildfire Centre.

‘Amazing Race Canada’ competitors face B.C. challenge

They drove Corvettes, mastered falconry basics, and ate blueberry pie in the Cowichan Valley

Grizzly bear jumps in river, chases B.C. kayaker

The bear got a bit too close for comfort along the Elaho River near Squamish

Island man convicted of 1999 sex assault at Fraser Valley music festival

James Allen Redden, formerly of Nanaimo, was found guilty of three charges

Parks Canada looks to shine light on cloudy future for historic sites

A plan is in place to produce 10-year plans designed to turn around sagging attendance figures

B.C. poet shines a bright light on struggle with homelessness

Book launch for John La Greca’s Homeless Memorial is at Vernon’s Gallery Vertigo July 21.

Ontario police say attack on Muslim man was motivated by hate

Two men, aged 27 and 19, have been charged with assault in the incident

Canadian Tire delivers toys to ease kids’ street play pain in B.C. neighbourhood

It’s like Christmas for 11 kids who are supposed to be confined to their yards by strata bylaw

Most Read