TSB says report into 2011 Resolute airline crash in final stages
Lawsuits still pending on behalf of victims' families and survivors
The Transportation Safety Board is in the final stages of reviewing a report into the 2011 air crash in Resolute Bay, which killed 12 people.
John Cottreau, the TSB’s media relations advisor, said the circumstances surrounding the event are complex and resulted in a lengthy investigation, but the draft report will be finalized over the coming months.
“I can’t tell you when, we don’t know that yet, but its definitely going to be out this year,” Cottreau said.
First Air flight 6560, a charter, was en route to Resolute from Yellowknife Aug. 20, 2011, when it crashed into a hillside about one nautical mile east of the airport, killing four crew members and eight passengers and injuring three passengers.
Investigations by the TSB follow a standard timeline, Cottreau said. After an investigator completes field work and writes a draft report, that report goes through a series of internal reviews up the chain of command at the TSB.
Once those reviews are completed, the TSB identifies external reviewers — manufacturers, companies, associations, and so on — to fact-check the report and offer suggestions to ensure “the completeness and accuracy of the report,” Cottreau said.
The Resolute crash report is currently at this final stage of external review.
Reviewers have 30 days to offer their responses and then the TSB considers those comments to decide which ones to incorporate and which to ignore.
Victims’ families and friends, aviation industry personnel, the people of Resolute and a few lawyers have been waiting on this report for two and a half years.
Last year, lawyers filed civil suits on behalf of survivors and victims’ families in the Nunavut Court of Justice seeking compensation from First Air, Nav Canada and the Department of National Defence.
Those statements of claim allege that at the time of the accident, Nav Canada and DND had an agreement to operate the Resolute airport and the surrounding airspace as an air traffic controlled facility.
As well, First Air has filed a statement of claim against DND, alleging negligence.
National Defence was in Resolute for Operation Nanook, the military’s annual sovereignty exercise.
According to a February 2012 safety advisory released by the TSB in advance of their final report, DND had set up a “temporary Class D control zone in Resolute Bay to handle increased air traffic for this exercise.”
That advisory also said that had the First Air flight not crashed into the ground, that it risked a mid-air collision with another flight which had entered the airspace without proper separation.
That separation, “is normally provided using radar information,” the advisory said.
“The military radar installed for OP Nanook was not useable at the time of the accident as a flight check had not yet been performed to verify radar accuracy.”
When asked if DND was one of the external parties reviewing the draft report, Cottreau could not say since external reviewers, and their comments, remain confidential.
“I’m sure you can piece together who might be on the list,” Cottreau said in response. “That particular element is not rocket science.”
When asked whether federal government departments have an influence over what gets included, or omitted, in a final report, Cottreau insisted that’s not possible.
“I’m going to tell you that the Transportation Safety Board is an independent investigative body and that we have, and always will, zealously protect our independence,” he said.
At least one industry consultant says there’s no reason to doubt that.
Mike Doiron, of Doiron Aviation Consultants, has worked in aviation safety for four decades including a dozen years as head of the Moncton Flight College in New Brunswick.
“The TSB is very independent and they pride themselves in that,” said Doiron.
“I spent almost 20 years at Transport Canada and I worked with them very closely as an affiliated agency and I have been involved in many occurrences and investigations as an observer and I can tell you they guard that independence very strongly.”
In a case such as this, the investigators will be trying to figure out how it is that a skilled northern flight crew could fly an aircraft into the ground, Doiron said.
“At the end of the day, the pilot in command is ultimately responsible for the proper and safe navigation of that airplane,” he said.
“The type of accident we’re dealing with here is an accident on an approach and it doesn’t take a whole lot to get off track. And this is where the TSB comes in — they have to figure out what could possibly have caused the flight crew to either not interpret their instruments, misinterpret their instruments or was there a problem with the instruments in the airplane?”
But even if they determine the accident likely resulted from human error, investigators must still figure out why, and how, he said, and those questions can have many possible answers.
“A lot of it can be caused by something that distracted them in the cockpit, another priority in the cockpit took their attention away for one second too long — those are the types of things the TSB will look at.”
The TSB continues to investigate the Dec. 22, 2012 airline crash in Sanikiluaq which caused the death of a six-month-old child.
Cottreau said the investigator has completed her field work for that accident and is currently writing a draft report.
As horrific as these accidents are, commercial flying is still a very safe industry, Doiron said. The number of flights annually worldwide continues to increase while the number of accidents remains stable. Last year, the number of air crash fatalities actually decreased.
According to a report in Bloomberg News, aircraft accident fatalities fell to a 10-year low in 2013 with 224 deaths involving commercial planes compared with 703 annually, on average, from 2003 to 2012.