Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut March 26, 2014 - 5:09 am

Victims’ families, survivors of Nunavut crash gather in Ottawa

"At least now we have a good idea as to what was the chain of events"

LISA GREGOIRE
Prime Minister Stephen Harper consoles Aziz Kheraj on Aug. 23, 2011 in Resolute Bay, after Kheraj lost his granddaughter, Cheyenne Eckalook, and several staff members in the Aug. 20, 2011 crash of First Air flight 6560. On March 25, Kheraj attended a gathering of victims' families and survivors who had been flown to Ottawa by First Air.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper consoles Aziz Kheraj on Aug. 23, 2011 in Resolute Bay, after Kheraj lost his granddaughter, Cheyenne Eckalook, and several staff members in the Aug. 20, 2011 crash of First Air flight 6560. On March 25, Kheraj attended a gathering of victims' families and survivors who had been flown to Ottawa by First Air. "It’s good to have everybody here. It brings some closure to the events of that day,” Kheraj said. (FILE PHOTO)

OTTAWA — While a crowd of reporters and Transportation Safety Board officials gathered downtown March 25 for the release of the TSB’s final report into 2011 crash of First Air flight 6560 in Resolute Bay, those who suffered most from the crash sat together not five minutes away, anxious for the news.

First Air brought victims’ families and survivors to Ottawa March 25 so they could support each other when details of the report came out.

Aziz Kheraj, grandfather to 10-year-old crash survivor Gabrielle Aleeasuk Pelky, said March 25 that about 50 people connected to the crash sat together at a downtown hotel and watched the news conference as it streamed online.

Facts can’t bring back the dead, but they can at least satisfy the craving to understand what went wrong, and why.

“Well, at least now we have a good idea as to what was the chain of events and what transpired and why the crash happened. That’s definitely good to know,” he said.

“And it’s good to have everybody here,” he said. “It brings some closure to the events of that day.”

Kheraj, a Resolute Bay resident who lost a granddaughter in the crash — Pelky’s sister Cheyenne — along with friends and staff members of the South Camp Inn, which he then owned, thanked First Air for giving families an opportunity to lean on each other during a difficult time.

“We’ve been treated very well. They’ve gone beyond the mandate in assisting in what has to be done,” he said.

While he hasn’t had a chance to read the entire report, Kheraj said he finds comfort in at least knowing the truth about those painful events.

“There was no anger,” he said, when asked to describe the mood among family members. Mostly people were just listening intently he added. And he himself bears no grudge.

“Accidents happen. You can walk across the street and get run over. The airline industry is still by far a safer mode of transportation than vehicles, boats, trains.”

He paused before adding philosophically, “When your time comes, it comes.”

The facts, as determined by the TSB’s lengthy investigation, are as complicated as they are heartbreaking. They involve everything from outdated and inadequate training to simple human errors.

But taken together, they added up to disaster.

The TSB concluded in its report that a series of factors contributed to the crash, which killed eight passengers and four crew members, and injured three others, Aug. 20, 2011.

Those factors include the way pilots deal with “threat-and-error” management, as well as a dangerous practice among pilots worldwide of landing airplanes even when all landing protocols have not been executed. These are called “unstable approaches.”

Pilots who find themselves in “unstable approaches” to landing, as was the case in Resolute Bay, are supposed to abort the landing, address any problems that arise and try again, or else take a different course of action.

But they don’t always do that.

Despite repeated efforts by the first officer on flight 6560 to convince the pilot to abort the landing and try again, for example, the pilot did not comply, perhaps because he was distracted by incorrect instruments and unaware that the autopilot system, which was supposed to take the craft to the centre of the runway, had been altered.

But Kheraj was forgiving in his reaction to the news.

“One has to understand that when you are coming in on final approach, there’s lots going on. One person is doing one thing, another person is doing another thing. If you are concentrating on what you are doing, you might not hear everything that’s told to you,” he said.

He does look forward to reading the full report and hopes aviation stakeholders implement the report’s recommendations, which direct Transport Canada and airlines to deal with unstable approaches and inadequate training.

Gabrielle has been brave throughout the whole ordeal. He said the news has been a lot for a little girl to absorb, but she has been enjoying her trip to the city.

Kheraj said the families will likely gather one last time on Wednesday before going their separate ways again, many of them, like himself, in airplanes.

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