Health, mechanical issues probed after train kills B.C. seniors

Victims Christian Wantke, 90, and Irmgard Wantke, 88, were married for more than 70 years

  • Jan. 2, 2019 1:10 p.m.

The family of Christian Wantke and Irmgard Wantke has been told investigators are looking at different possible causes of the fatal collision that took their lives, ranging from a medical issue, to mechanical failure of their car and trouble with the crossing signals.

“They had health issues, like everyone does when you get to that age,” said Hans Wantke, the oldest son of the Langley couple who were killed when their car was hit by a train at a level crossing on Sunday.

He said the family would like to know what happened as soon as possible, but they understand the investigation will take as much time as it needs.

Christian Wantke, 90, and Irmgard Wantke, 88, were great-grandparents who were married for more than 70 years.

Hans Wantke says his father was a survivor of the Second World War, a hard-working man who liked to work with his hands.

His parents emigrated to Canada from Germany after some friends encouraged them to go, Hans recalled.

“They told him there was gold at the end of the rainbow,” said Hans.

“The rainbow never materialized, but he [dad] stayed. He always said he would never go back.”

He said his father served a brief stint in the German military as the war was coming to an end, and the country was being devastated by allied air and ground forces.

“He was only 17 when he was drafted, at the very end of the war,” Wantke said.

“I don’t believe he saw combat.”

In Canada, his father quickly learned English and worked in construction, starting as a labourer, then becoming a plasterer’s helper and eventually a truck driver who worked on large projects like the Bentall buildings in Vancouver.

“He never had ambitions to go further,” his son said.

His mother didn’t work, concentrating on looking after the home and raising her four sons.

That was something his father insisted on, Hans said.

“You know Europeans, they’re very old-fashioned when it comes to who the bread-winner is. “

He said he didn’t have words to describe his reaction to the death of his parents, that he always hoped they would live a long life.

“I had a great-grandfather who lived into the hundreds, and I hoped he [my father] would make it there.”

READ MORE: Crash claims lives of couple

Police said the crash occurred at the rail crossing on the Langley Bypass, near Glover Road, at 9:40 a.m.

A westbound freight train hit the car, which was stopped on the tracks.

WATCH REPORT FROM THE SCENE

Langley City deputy fire chief Brian Godlonton said firefighters extricated the pair from the car and performed CPR, but the couple’s injuries were too severe and they were pronounced dead at the scene.

One witness, who refused to be identified, told Black Press she saw the couple stopped on the track and was screaming to them to move when she witnessed them being struck by the train. She was interviewed by police at the scene.

Two stuffed dogs and a War Amps sticker were all that remained amid shattered glass at the impact site.

The family is planning a celebration of life for Christian and Irmgard Wantke.

A time and place have yet to be selected.

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