VANCOUVER -- An experienced pilot with connections to Vancouver Island is being remembered as "a pilot's pilot."

Close friends have identified Alex Bahlsen as one of three people killed in a small plane crash on Gabriola Island Tuesday.

Bahlsen had a home in Mill Bay on Vancouver Island and another in Mexico, but spent most of his time on his ranch in Nanton, Alta., about an hour south of Calgary. The ranch features a 5,000-foot paved airstrip and at least half a dozen aircraft.

Bahlsen was “just a keener on everything to do with flying,” according to the curator of the Bomber Command Museum of Canada, Karl Kjarsgaard. He knew Bahlsen for 12 years and says the pilot moved to Alberta from Germany in his early 20s.

“We’re going from shock to grief now because Alex was such a good pilot,” Kjarsgaard told CTV News. “He could have done anything he wanted, his family was so well off, but he wanted to fly."

“There’s good pilots, excellent pilots, and there’s lucky pilots. And you can be good and excellent, but if you’re not lucky and if something happens that is beyond a pilot’s control, that’s called unlucky.”

Another friend tells CTV News that Bahlsen's wife, who is currently on vacation out of the country, has been notified about the terrible news. She is also a rated pilot and works as a flight instructor.

Raz Rydstrøm-Poulsen said he knew Bahlsen for about five years, and that he was funny, adventurous and an extremely capable pilot.

"He was amazing. I don't know what else to say," Rydstrøm-Poulsen said. "He was the smoothest, best pilot in the universe."

CTV News also spoke a member of Bahlsen's family who says they are not ready to speak with media yet, but did confirm that the passengers who also perished in the crash were close friends of the pilot and not relatives.

Bahlsen was in a piston twin-engine aircraft that went down Tuesday evening on the northern tip of Gabriola, a small Gulf Island located about five kilometres east of Nanaimo.

Witnesses said they saw a small plane that appeared to be in trouble at around 6:30 p.m., followed by a loud sound that shook some homes in the area.

There were three people on board the aircraft, and no survivors.

A group support session is happening at the Gabriola Fire Hall Thursday night for any residents affected by the deadly crash.

The Transportation Safety Board says investigators have conducted a preliminary survey of the accident site and it’s currently under the control of the BC Coroners Service and the RCMP.

The latest update says “the aircraft was extensively broken up due to high impact forces. The TSB team was unable to determine precisely the aircraft registration; work will continue to verify the registration.”

With files from CTV News Vancouver's David Molko and Sheila Scott