Pilot’s decision to fly through bad weather blamed for deadly B.C. crash

The pilot of a doomed Pacific Coastal Airlines float plane that crashed into a British Columbia island, killing him and six passengers, had a “can-do” attitude that sometimes led him to fly in questionable conditions, the Transportation Safety Board says.

VANCOUVER — The pilot of a doomed Pacific Coastal Airlines float plane that crashed into a British Columbia island, killing him and six passengers, had a “can-do” attitude that sometimes led him to fly in questionable conditions, the Transportation Safety Board says.

The board says in its report into the crash that pilot Peter McLeod had only seconds to react before his Grumman Goose slammed into Thormanby Island just north of Vancouver in November 2008.

The board’s final report, released Wednesday, said McLeod took off in poor weather.

His employer, Pacific Coastal Airlines, had conversations with him in the past about flying in less-than-ideal situations, the board said.

“Competition is strong and customers can put pressure on companies to complete flights,” the board’s Bill Yearwood said in a news release.

“We need to see better decisions from companies and pilots to prevent these kinds of accidents.”

One man, Tom Wilson of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., survived, but was burned in the fire set off by crash.

He made his way through thick brush on the tree-covered island to the beach, where he was picked up by rescuers.

He had no broken bones or internal injuries and doctors said at the time that he was making a remarkable recovery.

The Second World War-era plane went down Nov. 16, 2008, as it was transporting workers to a hydroelectric project under construction in Toba Valley, north of Powell River, B.C.

Visual flight rules require pilots to be able to see the ground below and ahead of them, but the TSB report concludes McLeod didn’t recognize how close he was to Thormanby Island, off B.C.’s Sunshine Coast

“There are some hard lessons that need to be learned and re-learned in aviation and this is one of them,” Yearwood said.

He noted that pilots flying under visual flight rules — or VFR — “must be able to see the ground below and ahead of them at all times.”

“It’s almost impossible to avoid obstacles and rising ground when clouds are low, the visibility is poor and you’re flying at twice the speed of cars on the highway,” Yearwood noted.

Aircraft crashing into land or water while under crew control are among the deadliest accidents in aviation, accounting for five per cent of accidents but 25 per cent of fatalities in Canada, the TSB said.

The risk is even greater when aircraft venture into mountainous terrain in poor weather.

The TSB noted in its news release that it’s job is to investigate transportation accidents with a view to improving safety. It does assign criminal or civil liability.