A Metro Vancouver woman died with her husband and brother in a float plane crash in Alaska on Monday, and friends and family are remembering them as driven, passionate people who will be deeply missed.
Elsa Wilk, 37, from Richmond, B.C., and Ryan Wilk, 39, originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, were married and lived together in Metro Vancouver where they worked in the tech sector, friends and colleagues said.
An American named Louis Botha, 46, also died in the crash. Elsa Wilk’s ex-husband Ian Brink said the man was her brother, and at one point Botha lived in San Diego with his wife and kids.
Brink said Elsa Wilk’s maiden name was Botha and she was born in Pretoria, South Africa, where they met. They were married from 2006 to 2012 and immigrated to the Vancouver area together because she had a sister in Richmond, he said.
Friends and teammates said she competed in taekwondo at the national level. She was passionate about the sport and worked hard to achieve her black belt, said Brink.
“We were young and had a thirst for life, and taekwondo was her thing,” he said. “She had this itch to always push herself, her body and her mind, so I think it was a good way to confront that — push yourself to the maximum and see what you’re made of.”
He said he hadn’t kept in touch with her in recent years, but when he knew her she loved technology and computer games, and was an avid runner who participated in the Vancouver Sun Run.
Brianne Rigetti, a former taekwondo teammate on the B.C. Senior Women’s Pattern Team, said Elsa Wilk was a “fierce friend and competitor with a work ethic like no other.”
“It didn’t matter if you hadn’t spoken for months or hours, it was always like no time had passed at all. She would be there for you at a moment’s notice, sometime even when you didn’t know that was exactly what you needed,” Rigetti said.
“I am so fortunate to have called her my friend, to have travelled and competed with her and to have shared a part of my life with her. She touched so many lives that are better for meeting her and there are a lot of people who lost an amazing friend, competitor, teammate and companion.”
Members of Metro Vancouver’s booming technology industry also mourned the couple, with former co-worker Derek Bolen saying Elsa Wilk brought a sense of healthy competition to everything she did.
“When we worked together she was a highly driven, incredibly intelligent and supportive person who you could always rely on for personal or professional advice and I considered her a close friend,” he said.
They worked together at Clio, a legal software company. The marketing team once made red “Elsa Army” T-shirts for staff to support her when she was competing in taekwondo, he remembered.
Her LinkedIn page said she had worked in marketing for several technology companies and helped launch CryptoKitties, a video game based on a growing technology called blockchain.
Ryan Wilk’s LinkedIn account described him as vice-president of product and market innovation at NuData Security, a Mastercard company. A Mastercard spokesperson said in a statement they are deeply shocked and saddened by his death.
“Ryan joined NuData in 2014 and quickly became the face of the business across the regions. He has been a cherished member of the team and will be deeply missed by colleagues right across Mastercard and NuData,” the statement said.
“We extend our most heartfelt sympathies to Ryan’s family and friends. Our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.”
A local tech-industry member remembered she saw Elsa Wilk speak about CryptoKitties at a B.C. blockchain event in 2017.
“She was very passionate about the project,” said Rama Ibrahim, co-founder and chief operating officer of Next Decentrum Technologies Inc. and founder of a group called Women in Emerging Tech.
“It’s rare to find a woman talking about blockchain and stuff related to this. It’s a really tiny community in Vancouver.”
The float planes were carrying tourists from the Royal Princess cruise ship when they collided near the southeast Alaska town of Ketchikan.
The death toll was initially reported as four, with two people missing. The U.S. Coast Guard said the bodies of the two missing people were recovered near the crash site Tuesday night.
Ryan Wilk was an American citizen. The other victims were identified as 62-year-old Cassandra Webb and 46-year-old pilot Randy Sullivan, both Americans, and 56-year-old Simon Bodie, an Australian.
The Royal Princess left Vancouver for Anchorage on Saturday and was to return on May 25.
It’s not known how the planes collided. U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigators are at the site.
Laura Kane, The Canadian Press