Iona Spit Trail plaque - J.T. Wesley Smith plane crash

Iona Beach Regional Park is in Richmond, BC and just north of the Vancouver International Airport. Part of the park is the Iona Spit Trail – a long jetty that pokes out into the water and is very popular with walkers and cyclists.

There’s a nice description of the walk here -

Near the end of the trail is a small plaque:

Iona Spit plaque - J.T. Wesley Smith

The inscription says:

In loving memory of my fiance
J.T. Wesley Smith
1930 - 1972
Plane crash at sea
Our love is forever
A loving son & father


I searched for information about Mr Smith and the plane crash, but (back in 2016) the only thing I could find was a note in the Sea Island Heritage Society newsletter that they were looking for information about the plaque:

The Sea Island Heritage Society is seeking information on a memorial plaque regarding a downed aircraft (plane crash at sea) in 1972. The plaque is located on the Iona Sewage Causeway hiking trail on Iona Island. If the accident occurred near Sea Island or Iona Island, the SIHS wish to document what happened and need the date to look for further information in local newspapers. The name on the plaque is J. T. Wesley Smith.

I did some research and sent the SIHS what I found, but I want to put it here in case anyone else sees the plaque and wants to know more it.

The pilot

John Thomas Wesley Smith was born in Salem, Oregon, on June 20, 1930 to Benjamin Wesley Smith and Laura Sophyna Dillinger. John was the second child of four.

By 1950, John was married to Vera Nell Wilmot. He was a 19 year old salesman, she was 17 and a student. The couple had three children, but got divorced at some point.

John had been flying since 1956. In 1972, he was engaged to a woman who lived in Vancouver. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find out any information about her, but I hope she found some happiness after losing John. 

The passenger

Jerry Wildman was an experienced pilot himself, who had only stopped flying due to age. He was born Julius H Wildman in Portland, Oregon on February 27, 1891 to Adolph Wildman and Paulina Wise.

In 1914, he married Lulu Turner, but, sadly, she died. In 1919, he married Carrie Stewart. It’s not known if Carrie also died or if they got divorced, but in 1925, he married Ann Winjum.

In 1932, Jerry got his private pilot’s licence:

In February 1972, Jerry celebrated his 80th birthday and was still flying:

He must have retired from flying at some point shortly after this, as the crash happened in October.

The crash

The men were flying from Aurora, Oregon to Vancouver International Airport. As they were approaching the airport, their plane disappeared and debris was later found in the water.


After a few days, the search for the men was called off and they were presumed to have died in the crash.

I haven't been able to find an obituary for John, but Jerry's is below:

The National Transportation Safety Board deemed the cause of the crash to be the fact that John wasn’t instrument-rated and flew into adverse weather.

Was he rushing to see his fiancée and didn’t want to cancel due to the weather? Did Jerry, as a recently retired but extremely experienced pilot who seemed to enjoy risky flying, encourage him to fly even though the conditions were poor? We’ll never know.

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