Quebec’s Air Saguenay closing down after plane crash lawsuit, business woes

MONTREAL — Months after a float plane crash in Labrador that killed seven men, the Quebec airline being sued by the family of one of the victims is going out of business, its president said Wednesday.

Jean Tremblay said Air Saguenay will not resume operations next year and he is selling off its facilities and equipment.

In a phone interview, Tremblay said the company was unable to recover from the Quebec government’s decision last year to end the caribou hunt, which he said was a serious blow to a regional airline that operates seasonally and serves mostly remote, northern locations.

The government did not offer any support or compensation for the closure of the hunting camps, which led directly to the decision to close, he said.

“In announcing the end of the caribou hunt, it was almost like announcing the end of Air Saguenay,” he said.

The announcement also came shortly after the family of a fishing guide who died in a July crash announced it was suing the airline, alleging negligence and breach of contractual duties.

Clifford Randell, 50, had been working as a fishing guide on the trip to Mistastin Lake on July 15, along with another guide, four American tourists and Air Saguenay’s pilot, Gilles Morin.

The family claims the crash was likely caused by the pilot’s alleged substandard flying skills as well as improperly maintained equipment. The lawsuit also alleges the airline failed to adapt to safety standards because none of the bodies recovered had personal flotation devices on.

None of the allegations has been tested in court.

Tremblay said while lawsuits are part of the airline business, the crash would have likely made the company’s insurance premiums prohibitively expensive or impossible to renew, which he said also factored into the decision to close.

“We don’t have a good accident history in the last 10 years, so it’s sure next year it would be hard for us to renew our insurance,” he said. “Right now, what we have as an indication is a minimum 200 per cent increase, if we find an insurer.”

He said he’s approached other companies about the possibility of buying some or all of his company’s assets in the hopes of continuing plane service to Quebec’s North but has yet to find a buyer.

Some 50 people will lose their jobs as a result of the closure.

The bodies of three people and the wreckage of the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver were never recovered from Mistastin Lake after a weeks-long search led by the RCMP. Without the plane or any witnesses, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said it could not conduct a full investigation to determine the cause of the crash.

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