Saturday, June 08, 2013

Opinion: Plane crash merits further investigation, 87 words are not enough: Cessna 172N Skyhawk II, C-GBLG, accident occurred October 25, 2012 near Puslinch Lake in Cambridge, Ontario - Canada

Russ Hawkins

June 8, 2013

Opinion/ Editorial

In this age of budget cuts, difficult decisions must be made.

In the case of the federal
Transportation Safety Board of Canada, present budgeting realities mean if a small plane crashes on the hilly shoreline of Puslinch Lake and the investigators dispatched to the scene feel they can sum up what happened without the time and expense of a thorough report, then that is how they are to proceed.

If all people involved in the crash walk away from it and nothing can be learned to help prevent more incidents like it, that seems fair. But when a life is lost, such as was the case in the Puslinch Lake crash last fall, the harsh reality of these budget cuts is on display in an unacceptable way.

An accident report weighing in at 87 words arising from such an episode is not enough.

Yet that's where things were left following the investigation of last October's float plane crash that claimed the life of 47-year-old Russ Hawkins, a Guelph entrepreneur and new pilot trying to earn his credentials for a float plane. He had been practicing landings and takeoffs on the lake in his Cessna 172 on amphibious floats.

Eyewitness Ken Elligson said the plane would land, taxi around the lake, turn into the wind and take off again. But there was something different about the final takeoff.

"We're watching him taxi along and he didn't seem to be slowing down. And I thought if he doesn't slow down soon he's going to hit the shore. And then at the last minute he took off again," Elligson said.

"He just barely cleared the trees on the shore. And when he got up above the trees, straight ahead of him up on the hill was a new house. He was headed for that house. He banked to the left to avoid the house and as soon as he banked to the left the plane just flipped over upside-down and went straight down into the trees."

It's been about a month since a story published in this newspaper put on record that
Transportation Safety Board of Canada has reopened its investigation into the crash. As reported last month, the brief safety investigation report was silent on mechanical concerns raised before the crash and does not reveal the survivor, Simon Kuijer, is a flight instructor who was unable to prevent the crash. It does not reveal the flight may have violated aviation regulations. It says nothing about a cockpit struggle alleged to have occurred in the final seconds in a failed bid to abort the takeoff.

The safety board acknowledges that 30 years ago it would have fully investigated to bring out all these details. These days, with budget cutbacks, it can't justify a full investigation for a crash it readily explains as pilot error.

But for the Hawkins family — and anyone else who flies a small plane as a hobby — 87 words are not enough.


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