Monday, June 12, 2017

Cessna 172M Skyhawk, C-GBMH: Accident occurred June 11, 2017 in North Vancouver, British Columbia

Pilot Octavio Hernandez poses with his son.

The pilot of a small Cessna plane that lost power and crashed in an industrial area of North Vancouver Sunday said he feels lucky to be reunited with his wife and young son.

“When I looked at all those kids playing in the parks (below), of course I thought about my son,” Octavio Hernandez told CTV Vancouver on Monday, but added he felt confident in the moments before the crash that the incident wouldn’t be fatal.

“You know you’re going to hit and you’re just hoping it’s not going to be a horrible outcome,” he said. “Something told me it was not going to end up bad.”

But veteran investigators with the Transportation Safety Board say they're amazed the four passengers of the aircraft survived after the plane made a forced landing in an industrial area of the waterfront near McKeen Ave around 4 p.m.

The plane crashed into a guardrail along with other structures near a bridge. The TSB said the small craft simply ran out of fuel: right-wing tank was empty and the left-wing tank only had a small amount of fuel.

The Cessna was on its return trip from Tofino back to Langley when the engine cut out and the aircraft began descending at roughly 100 km/h.

“Immediately, I just started looking at the possible causes of the engine failure,” said Hernandez, who started flying in B.C. as a pastime in 2010. “I just couldn’t find what (the problem was).”

The pilot attempted to restart the engine three times before declaring a state of emergency with the air traffic controller.

Hernandez said he considered a few options including a highway and a park, but decided against landing on either because there were people below. That’s when he noticed an empty parking lot and aimed the plane towards it.

“I already knew it was going to be hard for all of us, but my main goal was not landing on…some people,” he said. “I didn’t want to put other people at risk.”

Hernandez said he followed all the necessary safety procedures before leaving Tofino.

“Everything looked perfect,” during the pre-flight walk around, Hernandez said, including the aircraft’s fuel capacity.

The plane left Tofino with 20 gallons of fuel, which would normally allow it fly for about another 2.5 hours, the pilot said.

The engine failure occurred just over an hour later, leaving Hernandez unsure of what caused the incident.

“There are many different probabilities that could cause an engine failure,” he said “I’m really interested to know what caused the problem.”

Three of the passengers walked away unscathed and a fourth suffered what a broken arm while trying to protect his girlfriend from the impact of the landing.

One of the plane’s wings was resting on telephone cable and guide wires, instead of power lines, which emergency crews were initially concerned about.

“It’s very fortunate, it could’ve been a lot worse,” assistant fire chief Jim Bonneville said.

"There didn't appear to be any fuel leaking. It's resting on what appeared to be power lines at first, but they're just guide wires for the pole and some cable lines as well."

He said the plane appeared to have landed hard on its wheels and then "nosed in" with a propeller into the gravel. One wing rested on wires, another on the ground.

Witness Claire Alter told CTV News what she noticed most is that the plane wasn't making any noise.

"I was just walking my daughter and I looked up at the sky because I saw a plane, a very small plane, and I happened to notice there was no sound from it," she said.

The TSB says its investigation is now complete and no more information will be released.

Meanwhile, Hernandez said the experience won’t keep him from pursuing his ultimate goal of becoming a commercial bush pilot.

“I love flying and that’s always been my dream,” he said. “I see this as a lesson and, hopefully, it’s the first one and the last one.”

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