Monday, February 13, 2012

Report raises questions about crash that killed North Vancouver pilot

The North Vancouver pilot of a small Beechcraft airplane that crashed near Vancouver International Airport in October was struggling to regain control of the aircraft in the seconds before the plane crashed, said an interim report from the Transportation Safety Board.

Luc Fortin, 44, lost control of the plane in the very last moments of the plane’s approach, banking left and pitching nose down less than a kilometre from the runway.

Fortin managed to level the wings and pull the nose up slightly in the final seconds of the flight, according to the report. But it was already too late.

The landing gear collapsed on impact and the plane skidded along the road just outside an airport fence, bursting into flames.

The two pilots — Fortin and first-officer Matt Robic, 26, of Mission —were both injured in the crash, but would have survived if not for the fire that engulfed the aircraft, said the report.

It noted pointedly that six years ago, the board recommended changes to aircraft design to reduce the risk of post-crash fires.

Those recommendations have largely been ignored by both Canadian and international safety regulators, said the board.

The interim report released Thursday described how one emergency window exit on the plane was blocked by fire and a passenger struggled to open the twisted door of the plane as it was engulfed in flames. After several attempts, he got the door open, and helped other injured passengers out of the plane with the aid of passersby who ran up and pulled people out of the wreckage.

But there was confusion about how many passengers and pilots were actually onboard, according to the report.

Firefighters who arrived on the scene worked to free the pilots who were trapped in the cockpit while the fire was being doused.

The aircraft’s electrical wiring arced continuously, presenting a danger to rescuers while they worked, said the report.

Both pilots later died in hospital as a result of burns.

The board noted a 2006 study showed in many cases where fire broke out after a plane crash, the crash itself was survivable, but that the flames resulted in death or injury. At that time, the board recommended adding insulating materials to areas of planes vulnerable to friction heating, systems to contain fuel in the event of a crash, and improved design allowing passengers to escape, among others.

But regulators have “largely ignored these recommendations,” said the report.

The Northern Thunderbird airplane — originally bound for Kelowna — was returning to the airport on a visual approach Oct. 27 because oil was leaking from its left engine. But the engine never lost power and no emergency was declared.

There appeared to be no mechanical failure involved in the accident, according to the report.

A team led by investigator Bill Yearwood will analyze further data before coming up with a final report and recommendations.

Fortin, an experienced pilot, left behind a wife and young daughter.

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