An agricultural community in the heart of Alberta’s feedlot alley is mourning the death of two men killed in a Dec. 14 plane crash near Tofino, B.C.
Jurrie Van Den Berg, 51, and his son Mike, 25, lived and worked in Picture Butte. The elder Van Den Berg operated one of Canada’s largest feeding industry service companies, Porcupine Corral Cleaning. His son operated a spray plane business that was part of the family operation.
The two flew from Lethbridge Dec. 14 with Mike piloting a twin engine 421B Cessna. They landed in Abbotsford, B.C., before taking off for Tofino. A crater, their remains and parts of the plane were found Dec. 15.
“They told us yesterday that the plane crash made quite a crater,” said feedlot operator Leighton Kolk, a friend of the Van Den Bergs and a customer of Porcupine.
“It’s not near as big a crater as what’s going to be left in the family and the community and the circle of friends here. That will be a bigger hole yet. We’re all going to miss him.”
Weather reports in the Tofino area indicate heavy fog at the time of the crash, but an investigation by the Transportation Safety Board is expected.
Both men were long-time residents of the community.
Jurrie Van Den Berg built his business with “a couple of cold beers and a good idea,” said Kolk. He amassed what Kolk said was the largest nutrient management and manure hauling business in Canada, but Porcupine also did corral reconstruction, soil hauling, recreational development and crop spraying. The business is one of the largest employers in the Picture Butte area.
“He drove a hard bargain. If you wanted to do business with him, you better wake up early and have your pencil sharp. But if anybody needed anything, anybody in need — no problem for somebody that needed a hand,” Kolk said.
“He lived life to the fullest. His vocabulary did not have the word ‘can’t’ or ‘impossible’ in it. Those two words didn’t exist. If you told him it wasn’t possible, he’d prove you wrong.”
Mike Van Den Berg was an avid pilot who was also described as friendly, outgoing and a good friend.
Shaun Haney, who operates Haney Farms near Picture Butte, said the community is still absorbing the news.
“It’s very clearly a huge tragedy. Jurrie was definitely a business and community leader in the area,” he said. “He was a very successful entrepreneur who did a lot of things locally.”
The elder Van Den Berg leaves behind his wife, Susie, and daughter, Carlie.