Friday, November 29, 2013

South Surrey, British Columbia: Parents of plane crash victims call on federal government to increase safety rules following 2012 tragedy

SOUTH SURREY - The parents of Lauren Sewell and Dallas Smith - a young couple that died in a small plane crash outside Peachland last August - are pushing for reform to numerous private airplane regulations in hopes that they will prevent similar accidents in the future.

Greg and Fran Sewell, along with Pamela Smith, hosted a press conference at the Hazelmere Golf & Tennis Club on Thursday to express their concerns following the release of an investigative report by the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada that outlined the circumstances of the accident. They were joined by Debora and Al Nortman, a Vancouver couple whose 24-year-old son Joel died in a similar plane crash near Harrison Lake on July 5, 2011.

"When you read the TSB report, it really brings home how a few simple adjustments could have saved their lives," said Fran Sewell.

The parents of Lauren, Dallas and Joel are calling on Transport Canada - the federal authority that oversees pilot and airplane licensing across the country - to make shoulder restraints mandatory on all private aircraft, create a graduated licensing program for new pilots before they are allowed to carry passengers, and develop certification for flying in mountainous terrain conditions.

Numerous factors attributed to the crash - including reduced engine performance, uneven weight distribution, low altitude and pilot inexperience - but the Sewell's believe that Lauren, 24, and Dallas, 30, could have survived the crash if the 48-year-old PA-30 Twin Comanche was fitted with shoulder restraints, rather than the bare minimum of lap-belts.

The TSB report notes that Piper Aircraft Corp., the plane's manufacturer, issued a service bulletin on Jan. 18, 1995, advising plane owners of various models of retro-fit shoulder harness kits.

"In their bulletin, Piper clearly stated that they considered such retrofitting to be compliance mandatory," said Greg, adding that the owners of the plane relied on a grandfathering provision that allows aircraft manufactured before Dec. 12, 1986, to be flown with only lap-belts.

"We find the allowance of grandfathering clauses pertaining to the waiving of should restraints unacceptable."

Greg added that in the event that installing shoulder restraints is impractical, Transport Canada should require occupants of aircraft with only lap-belts to wear approved safety helmets, and that adequate signage be placed on the plane's doors to notify passengers.

The five parents are also asking B.C.'s Ministry of Justice to amend the province's Family Compensation Act, which oversees monetary compensation in cases of wrongful death.

"Under this law, grief is not an allowable basis on which to claim recovery for the loss of a family member, and compensation is limited to the reimbursement of 'reasonable funeral expenses,'" said Greg. "In order to potentially recover funeral costs, a grieving parent must take legal action against the wrongdoer, which normally would involve engaging the services of a lawyer."

Greg said he has sought legal counsel on the matter and learned that most lawsuits of this nature rarely go to trial as insurance companies typically propose a settlement based on reasonable funeral costs. He went on to say that if the plaintiff refuses settlement, pursues trial and wins, the judge is limited by the Family Compensation Act to award only enough money to cover funeral expenses.

At that point, the defendant's lawyers can argue that the plaintiff was offered the same amount as a settlement and that trial and associated defence costs could have been avoided, leaving the judge to rule that the plaintiff is responsible for covering the defence's legal costs.

"These efforts to achieve reformation to this Act would not benefit us as legislation would not be retroactive, but they will help others in the future," said Greg.

"Our life is forever changed," added Fran. "We have two older daughters who miss their sister. We miss Lauren every single day."

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Piper PA-30 Twin Comanche, C-GLGJ