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Crash possibly survivable

TSB report again calls for changes limiting post-crash fires

Pilots of a Northern Thunderbird Air flight that crashed short of the runway at YVR in October 2011 likely would have survived if Transport Canada had acted on the Transportation Safety Board's suggestions that could limit post-crash fires.

That was the view of Bill Yearwood, lead investigator with the TSB, who Wednesday morning presented a report into the crash that injured seven passengers and claimed the lives of two pilots.

Yearwood said the TSB had recommended in 2006 that Transport Canada implement regulations reducing ignition sources after a crash.

The Beechcraft King Air A100 belonging to Northern Thunderbird Air had just taken off from YVR on Oct. 27, 2011 for a flight to Kelowna when the pilots noticed an oil leak in the left engine.

They turned the plane around to return to YVR, but crashed on Russ Baker Way just outside the perimeter fencing for the south runway.

The impact caused a fuel leakage that was ignited.

Passersby, many of them drivers and passengers from cars on the roadway, came to the rescue of the passengers and crew.

Yearwood said there was evidence of live battery circuits after the impact and fire where the wiring was concentrated in the cockpit.

"It's clear that their (pilots') injuries, their deaths, were caused from the fire," he said. "Their physical injuries were likely survivable. So, we can say, 'yes, the fire is the cause of their deaths.'"

Post-crash fires can be triggered by a number of things, Yearwood said, adding electrical arcing from wiring is one situation that can be addressed, and is something the automotive industry already does.

"There is room to improve the survivability of an aircraft crash where there's fuel spills," Yearwood said. "If you remove that heat source from arcing, you've done well."

The changes are doable, he added.

"It would be easier to design a battery to disconnect on impact than to retrofit the whole aircraft."

Yearwood did say Transport Canada does agree with the TSB's recommendations, "However, I can't say why they haven't acted, and the board has assessed their response as unsatisfactory."

Asked whether he found inaction on the TSB's recommendations frustrating, Yearwood said, "It's difficult when you're talking to the loved ones to explain that. We have the push. And, you can see from the report, the board is taking a further stand and explaining their concerns, being somewhat direct. That's the only force we have."

The TSB's report also found the reason the pilots returned to YVR was because the plane's oil reservoir cap on the left engine had not been secured.

When an oil leak became visible, the flight crew reduced power to that engine and made for YVR.

However, the investigation determined the leak was minor and the engine would have continued to function normally until the oil pressure had decreased enough to force the pilots to shut it down.

That would have then triggered a series of emergency procedures the pilots had been trained to undertake.

"This was a crew stuck in a grey area between a normal flying aircraft and anticipating a problem," Yearwood said.

Reducing the power to the oil leaking engine increased the drag on the aircraft since the left side propeller was not feathered it's pitch angled.

When the plane was on its final approach to the runway, the report indicates it slowed below its minimum landing speed. And when power was reapplied, likely to just the right engine, the aircraft rolled left and pitched down.

With insufficient altitude to recover, the plane crashed into the ground.

Pilots, 44-year-old Luc Fortin and Matt Robic, 26, died of their injuries later in hospital.

Six of the surviving passengers are suing the charter airline, alleging its staff ignored a pool of leaking oil under the planes wing before taking off.

The lone passenger not taking legal action told the media immediately after the horrific crash she owed her life to the heroic efforts of the two pilots and countless other people who saved her.

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