Pilot error blamed for fatal plane crash near Buffalo Lake

A plane crash near Buffalo Lake that killed two B.C. brothers in 2011 was likely the result of pilot error, a fatality inquest was told.

A plane crash near Buffalo Lake that killed two B.C. brothers in 2011 was likely the result of pilot error, a fatality inquest was told.

Dean Sorken, 44, and his brother Lee Sorken, 39, died of “multiple blunt injuries” when their single-engine plane crashed on June 3 in a farmer’s field on the north shore of Buffalo Lake.

According to the report from a fatality inquiry held in Stettler last August, Dean Sorken was piloting the plane through poor weather conditions that he had insufficient training and experience to deal with.

The Abbotsford resident was advised several times of heavy cloud cover over Alberta before starting the flight.

Yet he proceeded to pick up his brother Lee in Vernon, B.C., before heading to a family wedding in Killam, east of Camrose.

After reviewing the weather data at the time of the flight, experienced pilot Gordon Welsby told the hearing he “could not fathom why (Dean Sorken) thought he could fly in the prevailing weather conditions. … The decision to fly was a bad one and should not have been undertaken.”

The B.C. pilot had clocked only 500 hours of flight time, which in Welsby’s opinion was low experience.

Of this, he had only five hours of flying with instruments and was licensed only for Visual Flight Rules, not for relying on electronic navigational devices.

Dean Sorken’s inexperience had gotten him into trouble in March 2011 when he required help from Air Traffic Control officers to steer him out of heavy clouds so he could regain visual sight lines. He had also run out of fuel while on a previous flight to Killam, which indicated to Welsby “he was a bold and aggressive pilot, who was inattentive to detail.”

No indications of anything mechanically wrong with the plane were found in the post-crash investigation. But the 1966 single-engine Mooney aircraft had been driven vertically into the ground at about 11 p.m., making a hole of more than two metres at the crash site.

In Welsby’s opinion, Dean Sorken lost control of the aircraft very quickly after losing sight of the horizon line and getting confused. According to the report, his plane went into an uncontrolled dive “that he had neither the skill or expertise to get himself out of.”

The pilot’s confused state was indicated by the plane’s still open throttle. Welsby told the hearing that the first thing a pilot should do is close the throttle when in a dive.

“In Mr. Welsby’s opinion, Mr. Sorken was fatigued, panicking and not performing. In his final opinion, this accident was caused by human error,” states the report compiled by provincial court Judge James Hunter.

No recommendations came out of the fatality inquiry that also heard from a Transport Canada regional manager and Transportation Safety Board inspector.

Hunter concluded that pilots should be flying at their skill and experience level. “No regulation or recommendation is needed to enforce this and none would convince those inclined not to, to do so.”

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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