Thousands packed Kandahar Airfield on Thursday to bid farewell to Lt. Andrew Nuttall, a 30-year-old Canadian soldier who died when an improvised explosive device detonated while he was on foot patrol in Afghanistan.

Nuttall's body was loaded onto a plane in a ramp ceremony and will be flown back to Canada on a Christmas Eve flight.

The Prince Rupert, B.C. native died Wednesday along with an Afghan soldier in the town of Nakhoney in the Panjwaii district of southern Afghanistan. An interpreter was seriously injured.

His death came on a violent day in the region, when Afghan police announced eight people were killed in a suicide bombing near a guest house in Kandahar.

Nuttall belonged to the 1st Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, based in Edmonton. He is survived by his mother Jane and father Richard, who said they were proud of their son's decision to join the military.

"We have lost a bright light in our lives," said the family in a statement.

In total, 134 Canadian soldiers have now been killed while serving in Canada's mission in Afghanistan which began in 2002. Nuttall is the first soldier to die since Sapper Stephen Marshall was killed on Oct. 30 in a similar IED attack. Sixty-six Canadian deaths in Afghanistan have been caused by similar homemade bombs.

Nuttall had been blogging since he arrived in Afghanistan about two months ago. In a post on his website dated November 15, he said he and his crew were "finding and exploiting IEDs like their (sic) going out of style."

Although he said that "not everything is rosy and nice," because he lost two soldiers in his battle group to IEDs, he maintained a positive outlook.

"We've made huge leaps and bounds forward security and development wise," he wrote.

"All of the locals respect what we bring to the table much more than the Taliban, even though it's in an Afghan's nature to always play both sides. I've found everything about it very rewarding as I can actually see the progress made toward a better future."

Brig.-Gen. Daniel Menard, commander of coalition forces in Kandahar province, described Nuttall as a generous person who came to Afghanistan because he thought he could make a difference to the Afghan people.

"He wanted to lead from the front and set the example -- attributes he passionately displayed every time he was in front of his platoon," Menard said Thursday morning in a statement from Kandahar.

His death comes during a period of relative calm after a summer that saw a spike in violence, and as NATO forces are seeing an infusion of hundreds of fresh U.S. troops who are helping in the effort to secure areas in and around Kandahar City.

Nakhoney, about 25 kilometres southwest of Kandahar City, is part of the Panjwaii triangle -- an area where Canadian forces have found factories used by Taliban to make IEDs, as well as large quantities of other weapons.

The military is trying to establish a "ring of stability" around the city before the surge in fighting traditionally begins in the spring -- a phenomenon known as "fighting season," according to Menard.

Menard said Nuttall was searching for Taliban transit routes at the time of his death.

"His patrol was part of our efforts to protect the people of the village from insurgents," said Menard.

Canadians give condolences

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Nuttall's "sacrifice will not be forgotten."

"Canadians are proud of our military men and women," Harper wrote in a statement. "We support their families, and all those who serve and sacrifice to protect the interests and values of Canadians. We will not waiver in our goal of helping Afghans rebuild their country as a stable, democratic and self-sufficient society.

In a statement, Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean said Nuttall's death comes at the end of a "particularly difficult year," and during the holiday season, "an important time for families."

"It is a harsh reminder of the enormous sacrifices our soldiers and their loved ones have agreed to make so that stability and security can be re-established in a dangerous region of the world and to help people who have been deprived of their most fundamental rights, distressed by years of violence and oppression," said Jean.

Afghanistan's Ambassador to Canada wrote in a statement that he was saddened to hear about Nuttall's death.

"It is particularly tragic that the news comes on the eve of Christmas, a festive occasion for families across Canada and much of the world," wrote Jawared Ludin.

"Lieutenant Nuttall will be remembered in Afghanistan for his bravery and sacrifice in the interest of peace in my country. I pay homage to his memory and feel immensely indebted for his sacrifice."

The effects on morale

Ret. Col. Michel Drapeau, who is a military analyst, told CTV News Channel that the fact Nuttall died the day before Christmas is especially hard on all military families.

"It's very, very difficult, not only for the family, but every other family that has a son or daughter serving now in Afghanistan, the level of stress and level of anguish that they would feel...has to be heightened."

Another retired Col., Alain Pellerin told News Channel that one incident is tragic, but will not crush morale among Canadian soldiers.

"Morale is a lot more than one incident like that. I think morale is the sum total of the training of the soldiers, the equipment the leadership...we're the best small army of the world," he said.

"The morale is very high and very strong, and it will remain that way."

With files from The Canadian Press