Facebook photo John Driftmier killed shooting TV series 'Dangerous Flights' in Kenya
CALGARY -- He made his living directing and filming a television show called Dangerous Flights -- but it was a supposedly low-risk sightseeing plane that crashed with Calgarian John Driftmier aboard.
The extreme filmmaker from Calgary was killed Sunday morning when the small plane he'd boarded for a safari jaunt in Kenya was apparently hit by strong winds, sending the aircraft plummeting into Mt. Kenya.
At least that's the early speculation following the tragic wreck in Africa, which came after 30-year-old Driftmier helped deliver a different small plane halfway around the world, surviving some of the most hazardous routes and runways in aeronautics.
"The plane they were flying was delivered safely, and then John just wanted to get a few more shots, so he hired a plane," said Les Allen, Driftmier's father-in-law, speaking from the filmmaker's Ottawa home.
It's especially shocking news for Driftmier's family after spending months worrying about the renowned TV director and cameraman, who made his name making documentaries in extreme conditions.
Allen said this latest job, as a director for the Discovery Canada documentary series Dangerous Flights, had the entire family on edge with worry, given the extreme risks involved.
"They took a plane from Louisiana, a little single prop, up through North America and across the top of the Atlantic -- Greenland, Iceland, Scotland -- and then they made their way down through Europe to Africa," said Allen.
Footage from the show, featuring the tiny plane landing in Greenland, offers a glimpse into the white-knuckle world the Calgary-born, Ottawa-based director apparently adored.
Even the two pilots gasp as they catch their first glimpse of the Greenland runway, which first requires them to skim over icy water, while avoiding craggy rocks and mountainous terrain.
Driftmier may have loved the rush -- he'd previously worked on History Television's Ice Pilots NWT -- but his family at home, including wife Carolyn, couldn't help but worry.
It was a relief then when the little plane finally landed in Kenya and Driftmier wrote home to say he was safe -- all that remained was getting a few extra shots of the local wildlife.
His family at home -- including parents in Calgary -- thought the final landing in Kenya meant he was safe and sound.
The delivery of the used aircraft to Kenya was hoped to be his last scary plane adventure.
"He done a number of these dangerous flights and we thought he was done with them, but this one came up -- he saw this flight to Kenya, and said yes. That was John -- he liked the adventure," said his father-in-law.
But Driftmier decided to get some footage of a local safari park before returning to Canada, and it was respected Kenyan conservationist Dr. Anthony King at the helm of the Aeroprakt A22 Foxbat when something went wrong, killing both men.
Kenyan media has quoted aviation officials saying the plane was good mechanical condition prior to the fatal trip, but the flight path was notorious for sudden gusts of wind, despite being used all the time by tourists.
It was an ironic end for a man who'd made a career of risks and living on the edge.
"I crave adventure on my shoots, and love travelling," is how Driftmier himself put it, in a short autobiography on his website, www.johndriftmier.com.
"John loved his work -- he was doing what he loved," said Allen, who said his daughter last heard from her husband shortly before the fatal crash.
"He wrote my daughter a long e-mail about the safari he did that day. He'd been thrilled that he was going on that one day safari to see all the animals."
A memorial is planned for this Saturday at 2 p.m. in Calgary, at St. Stephen's Anglican Church. A funeral will follow, once Driftmier is brought back to Canada.
Allen said the loss of someone so full of life has left a massive void in the family. He personally felt much closer to Driftmier than their traditional "in-law" titles allowed.
"He was called my son-in-law, but I always thought of him as a son," said Allen.