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

Massive fire destroys Agassiz dairy barn

Reports say at least one cow died in the blaze

First court date in Chilliwack for man accused of murdering Belgian tourist

Family and friends of Sean McKenzie, 27, filled the gallery for brief court appearance Wednesday

Another successful year for Chilliwack’s ‘We Got Your Back’ backpack program

Sponsored by local businesses, program stocks backpacks with school supplies for students in need

Group forms in Hope to respond to homelessness, trauma and addictions

Homelessness Action Response Table (HART) full of local, regional, provincial movers and shakers

Watch out for Pavement Patty: Drivers warned outside B.C. elementary school

New survey reveals unsafe school zones during 2018 back-to-school week

Horvat leads Canucks to 4-3 shootout victory over Kings

Vancouver dumps L.A. in NHL pre-season contest

Update: Search called off for missing plane between Edmonton and Chilliwack

Search efforts were concentrated along the Highway 5 corridor between Valemount and Kamloops

VIDEO: Woman files complaint over treatment of cat with two broken legs

Ariel Johnston of Abbotsford says her pet was sent home without pain medication

Why Whistler for ski jumping in 2026? Calgary proposal gets pushback

Calgary 2026 proposes re-using the 2010 ski jumping venue Whistler for that sport and nordic

VIDEO: Hundreds line highway as family brings home body of B.C. teen

Northern B.C. showed their support by lining Hwy 16 as Jessica Patrick’s body returned to Smithers.

Despite progress, threat of 232 tariffs dominates NAFTA negotiations

Any deal is seen to require congressional approval before Dec. 1 to survive new Mexican government

B.C. MP Todd Doherty receives award for saving man who collapsed on a plane

Conservative MP was flying from Vancouver to Prince George, B.C., in June last year

Alleged border jumper from Oregon facing 2 charges after police chase in B.C.

Colin Patrick Wilson charged with dangerous operation of motor vehicle, flight from a peace officer

Most Read