CRANBROOK, B.C. - The family of a Kenyan student killed this week in a helicopter crash in Cranbrook, B.C., were planning a big homecoming party for him when they received news of the tragedy.

Twenty-year-old Isaiah Otieno was on his way to the post office to mail letters to family and friends when the helicopter crash-landed on him, his father, Kenya's Public Services Minister Dalmas Otieno told Kenya's Nation newspaper on Thursday.

Three others were killed instantly Tuesday when the chopper faltered and slammed into the street in a quiet Cranbrook neighbourhood. They were identified as pilot Edward Heeb, 57, and BC Hydro employees Dirk Rozenboom, 45, and Robert Lehmann, 37.

Dalmas Otieno said he had spoken with his son by telephone just an hour before he died.

"We are still shocked about the tragedy after receiving the bad news," the newspaper quoted the Kenyan minister as saying. "What is disheartening is that my son was not even travelling on that chopper, it simply crash-landed on him."

The 6' 9" Kenyan had spent the last two years in Cranbrook, B.C., studying at the local college. He had quickly won people over with his smile and charm, and his many friends were devastated at the news of his death.

"I've never, ever heard of a helicopter falling out of the sky," Isaac Hockley, a close friend said Wednesday.

Hockley had photographed the crash for the local paper without even knowing his close friend was one of four badly charred bodies lying under the police tarps.

Otieno's father said he learned of his son's death via e-mail, when friends of his son used Isaiah's e-mail address and sent a message that was copied to a brother. He said they were later formally informed by Kenya's ambassador to Canada, Rachel Omamo.

The homecoming party planned by the family would have included a visit by Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, said reports in that country's newspapers.

Transportation Safety Board
investigators spent the day Wednesday putting pieces of the burnt and twisted wreckage into a truck bound for their investigation facility in Vancouver.

Senior investigator Damien Lawson said determining a cause for the accident will be challenging.

The aircraft was destroyed nearly beyond recognition; the model of helicopter does not have a flight recorder; and the pilot appears to have had no communication with the ground in the final 10 minutes before the crash.

Many residents of the houses and apartment buildings that line the street say the helicopter was circling low - just over the rooftops and ponderosa pines - just minutes before it appeared to turn at a 45-degree angle and slam into the pavement.

Several people tried in vain to help the four men, but the force of the impact and heat of the flames were too much.

Nearby residents and police praised pilot Edward Heeb for somehow managing to avoid hitting houses or nearby churches and school yards as his craft came down.

Witnesses speculated that Otieno was wearing headphones at the time and likely never heard the chopper tumbling toward him, tail-first, said his friend, Hockley.

Otieno's life in B.C.'s rugged interior was not without its challenges, though.

"It was pretty hard to come to a redneck town like this - it was pretty tough for him that way," said Hockley, noting he was one of the few black men in town.

But in his two years in Cranbrook, Otieno had amassed an impressive number of friends.

"Every time he'd see me he'd give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and a high-five," said Chrystal Wentzell.

"He was the friendliest person ever - just a friendly giant."

-With files from The Associated Press

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