A weekend plane crash claimed the lives of three residents of Moose Jaw, Sask., including two fathers who expected to see their children get married this summer.
Jim Wilk was piloting the plane that took off from Medicine Hat, Alta., on Saturday night, on the way home from his son’s stag party.
Kerry DePape, the father of the bride-to-be, and Justin Filteau, a friend and well-known football player and coach, were the two passengers. All three were killed when the plane crashed about 20 minutes after takeoff.
“He was a very capable pilot, that’s the saddest part,” said Rob Walchuk, a friend of both Wilk and DePape, who’d taken a few flights with Wilk in the past. “Everything was about safety.”
Walchuk and others said they were still having trouble wrapping their heads around the deaths two days later.
“The wedding is Aug. 10 and both fathers-in-law will not be there. It’s the saddest situation,” he said.
The wedding of Alyssa DePape and Justin Wilk is scheduled to be held at the Moose Jaw Armoury.
Jim Wilk always one to give back
Along with being a pilot, Wilk was a business owner, a rural councillor and an active member with the Shriners. He is remembered as a hard-working man with a one-of-a-kind personality.
Gerald Julian, president of the local flying club, recalled a time when the airport was hit with a huge load of snow, leaving him unable to get to his hangar. He was driving to the airport and thinking of calling Wilk, who owned an excavation business, to help. When Julian arrived he saw equipment already on site and clearing the way.
“There’s Jimmy leaning out with a big grin on his face and a cigarette sticking out of his mouth which was fairly typical,” Julian recalled. “And I said, ‘Jimmy! I was just going to see if I could phone you.’
“And he says, ‘I felt sorry for you.’ Closed up his door went back to clearing the snow off and he never charged me a dime for it or anything. That was, I think, a pretty typical Jimmy Wilk story.”
While he never flew with Wilk, Julian said he knew Wilk’s aircraft very well. It was a 1976 or ’77 American Aviation AA-5B. It had been part of Moose Jaw’s flying scene for its entire life, even before Wilk bought it.
“There’s absolutely no reason to think that Jimmy didn’t know the airplane inside out because it’s essentially the only aircraft model that he ever flew,” he said.
A Transportation Safety Board spokesperson said it was still too early to release details, but investigators were on scene on Sunday evening and again today, at a site about 32 kilometres east of Medicine Hat, to try to determine the cause of the crash.
Beloved husband, father, grandfather
Kerry DePape’s wife, Cheryl, said she and her husband were high school sweethearts and would have been married 35 years this summer.
“He was the best husband,” she said through tears, adding he was also a beloved father to their two daughters and son, and “Papa” to their grandchild.
DePape was an “extraordinary craftsman,” who built beautiful structures to make his first daughter’s backyard wedding a memorable one. His second daughter also planned to get married there, she said.
“A perfect day for him would be a day out on the lake on his boat, followed by a barbecue with his family, and a steak, and a nice glass of rum with his buddies,” she said.
He was dedicated to the construction business and improvements in the millwork industry, as president of R.L. Cushing Millwork Co. He was also involved in his church and was a diehard Saskatchewan Roughriders fan.
“He didn’t like to miss a game, but would often share the tickets with his co-workers, and take turns so others could enjoy it as well,” she said.
Cheryl DePape expects her daughter’s wedding day will be “bittersweet” without the presence of the two beloved fathers.
“But the love and the support they showed their children will carry on and it will make it a special day,” she said.