Rusty wing caused fatal plane crash on Snowshoe Lake: Transportation Safety Board

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2 killed in March crash at Ontario-Manitoba border; multiple safety issues with plane, TSB report says

Marina von Stackelberg · CBC News · Posted: Oct 18, 2019

The Transportation Safety Board has released its report on a crash on Snowshoe Lake in March 2019 that killed a pilot and his passenger. The TSB report found the crash was caused by corrosion on the plane, which caused one of the wings to fail in flight. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

A plane crash at the Manitoba-Ontario border that killed a pilot and his passenger was caused by severe corrosion on the aircraft’s wing, according to a Transportation Safety Board of Canada report.

The TSB’s investigation details a number of safety violations with the small plane, and points to rust so excessive that in some spots, the metal was as little as 0.05 mm thick.

The Piper J3C-65 plane was flying to a fishing and outpost lodge at Snowshoe Lake, Ont. — about 100 kilometres northwest of Kenora — from Gun Lake, Ont., on the afternoon of March 30, 2019, when the pilot lost control and crashed onto the frozen surface of the lake.

Witnesses at a nearby lodge responded immediately. The 65-year-old pilot died at the scene. His 26-year-old passenger was airlifted to hospital with serious injuries, where he died six days later.

The pilot and the passenger were the only people aboard the plane.

Rust issue flagged in 2015

The safety board’s report, released Oct. 8, says the plane’s corrosion was flagged years ago, but wasn’t fixed.

“It’s something that was preventable,” said Eckhard Dittbrenner, the TSB’s lead investigator into the crash.

Snowshoe Lake is on the Manitoba-Ontario border. (Google Maps)

In June 2015, a legally binding order was issued to the pilot, who was the owner of the plane, to inspect corrosion on the plane’s wing lift strut assembly. The strut is the piece of metal that connects the wing to the plane’s body, supporting it.

The maintenance records for the aircraft, which was built in 1946, appear to indicate that order wasn’t complied with, the investigation report said.

“The lift wing strut had failed.… It could no longer bear the load,” Dittbrenner said.

No seatbelts, passenger seat, transmitter

The plane had no rear seat for the passenger, and seatbelts weren’t being used when the plane crashed, the investigation found.

“There was miscellaneous cargo that was also not secured,” Dittbrenner said.

The plane did not have an emergency locator transmitter, which is required by regulations and would have been instrumental in the search for the aircraft, had it not crashed in front of witnesses, the report said.

This image from the TSB report shows the damage to the upper half of the plane’s wing lift strut assembly. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

“When you abandon these regulations, then things such as what happened here can happen,” Dittbrenner said.

Dittbrenner said privately owned planes like this one are only required to be inspected once a year. Commercial aircraft are under more stringent regulations.

‘Casual attitude’ about plane’s safety

The report found the pilot was qualified to fly the plane and that weather was not a factor in the crash.

Instead, the condition of the plane was to blame, the safety board said.

“It just shows a generally casual attitude — ‘we’re not going to take care of the plane properly,'” said Jock Williams, a retired pilot and former Transport Canada flight safety official.

The Piper plane, he said, is “so slow most of the time that you could run into something and you still wouldn’t get killed. But in this case, they didn’t have their seatbelts on,” he said.

The Piper J-3 Cub involved in the crash, similar to the one pictured above, was built in 1946. The TSB found a series of safety issues with the plane involved in the crash. (aopa.org)

Williams said the accident rate for these types of planes is higher than for commercial airlines, but major carriers are working with airplanes that cost tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars.

It’s up to each small-plane owner to make sure it’s fit to fly, he said.

“It’s not that these planes represent a danger.… There are good and bad aircraft owners. This is one person who must have been quite competent,” said Williams.

“But he should not have been flying that plane, because it was not in proper condition to fly,” he said.

“It literally rusted away.”