A failure to implement safety recommendations made by the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) in 2006 is being blamed in a preliminary report of a Richmond plane crash that killed two pilots last October.
The co-pilot, 26-year-old Matt Robic of Mission, and 44-year-old pilot Luc Fortin of North Vancouver, were seriously burned following the crash of their Beech King Air 100 shortly after taking off from Vancouver International Airport Oct. 27.
Fortin died soon after the accident, while Robic died three weeks later in hospital from an infection caused by the burns.
According to the TSB’s lead investigator on the case, Bill Yearwood, if federal airline regulators and manufacturers had heeded the agency’s warning in 2006, those deaths may have been averted.
“There’s evidence in past investigations to show that all of these things that previous recommendations have highlighted could make a big difference in survivability of accidents,” he said.
Yearwood said a 2006 TSB safety study of post-impact aircraft fires identified 128 of 521 incidents in which fire or smoke inhalation contributed to the cause of death or serious injuries that were otherwise survivable.
“It’s really a tragic thing, because it cost us our son,” said Matt’s father, Alex Robic. “If he wouldn’t have been burnt as bad as he was, he probably would have survived. I know he would have survived.”
Robic said his son suffered burns to 64 per cent of his body, which lowered his immune system, leading to the infection.
“We’re hoping that Transport Canada is going to take this serious. I mean, how many people have to die before they do?”
Robic said he hopes something good can come out of the tragedy if it saves others.
TSB made recommendations to Transport Canada, the Federal Aviation Administration, and other foreign regulators to take specific steps to mitigate fire-related deaths. But none were implemented, leaving an “unsatisfactory” response rating by the TSB.
The response from Transport Canada to those recommendations, posted on its website in 2006, says that it supports the TSB objective of reducing fatalities and serious injuries due to post-impact fires, “however implementation of these recommendations would require an immense resource effort. Unfortunately, the Department is not in a position to commit the necessary resources at this time.”
Yearwood doesn’t think that’s good enough.
“Some of the [recommendations] are not easy to change in the short term, in other words to modify the aircraft. You have to start out with new aircraft being designed differently,” said Yearwood.
But he added there are easier recommendations that could have been followed in order to earn a response of “satisfactory intent” from the TSB.
The preliminary TSB report said the fire started immediately after impact and the aircraft’s electrical wiring arced continuously even as rescue workers tried to extricate passengers.
Yearwood said even many road cars have switches to disconnect the battery in a crash so that while gasoline might be present there won’t be electrical arcing from damaged wires to cause an explosion or a fire.
Richmond Fire-Rescue personnel arrived three minutes after the crash and began spraying the wreckage. But even after the fire was out, the report notes rescue workers were concerned the live electrical system could reignite a fire.
“While all the persons onboard sustained serious bone fractures from the impact deceleration forces, those injuries were survivable,” reads the report. “The post-impact fire compromised that survivability. Both pilots suffered burns as a result of the post-impact fire and later died as a consequence.”
The TSB has finished just the first part of a three-phase investigation, expected to take several months to complete.