Probe finds plane that crashed, killing five people, was overloaded

EDMONTON — A company plane that crashed last year in Alberta, killing five people, was overloaded and not properly maintained, says a report by the Transportation Safety Board.

EDMONTON — A company plane that crashed last year in Alberta, killing five people, was overloaded and not properly maintained, says a report by the Transportation Safety Board.

The aircraft, owned by A.D. Williams Engineering, crashed on March 28, 2008, near Wainwright.

Company president Reagan Williams, who piloted the single-engine Piper Malibu, his two senior employees and two contractors all died.

Williams held commercial and private pilot licences and regularly flew the firm’s aircraft, but he had not trained for possible instrument failure since 2001, the board found.

“Such skills deteriorate over time if not exercised.”

The key factor in the crash was the failure of the gyro instrument that helped stabilize the aircraft while it was being flown in autopilot mode, says the report.

Just prior to the flight, the instrument had been removed and checked, but was reinstalled “without the benefit of the recommended overhaul.”

The report concludes the autopilot became “unusable” when the gyro failed, so the pilot was forced to take control of the plane.

But the pilot had not practised flying manually without all of his instruments and lost control of the aircraft.

Williams didn’t reduce his air speed, which might have allowed him to regain control of the aircraft, the board adds.

The plane went into a high-speed nosedive and broke into pieces because “the structural limitations of the aircraft were exceeded.”

The investigation found several deficiencies, including that the aircraft was more than 400 kilograms over its weight limit at takeoff.

“During the pilot’s upgrade training and on the safety seminars he had attended, the issues of weight and balance were emphasized as concerns with this particular model of aircraft,” says the report.

The agency raised concerns about high-performance aircraft being flown by a single pilot.

“There is a risk that this type of accident will be repeated,” says the report.

“The likelihood of a pilot being overwhelmed by the complexity of this situation and becoming task-saturated is significant.”

It says similar crashes could be prevented if there are instruments to back up those which could fail, and if pilots practise their skills.

The report also notes that the company that was maintaining the plane “did not have the approval to maintain PA-46 turbine aircraft.”

The report also found a number of problems with the company that owned the aircraft, including a lack of safety checks.

“The company did not conduct an annual risk assessment,” says the report. “The hazards should have been identified and the associated risks mitigated.”

Naseem Bashir, the current president of Williams Engineering, was flying to Winnipeg on Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

The agency that oversees safety management of such aircraft was also faulted in the crash report.

“The Canadian Business Aviation Association audit did not identify the risks in the company’s operations,” says the report.

“If the effective oversight … is not exercised by the regulator or its delegated organization, there is increased risk that safety deficiencies will not be identified and properly addressed.”

Other problems found during the investigation include no pilot records, no quick-donning oxygen masks, no records of weight and balance and unapproved maintenance.

It was the second fatal crash involving an aircraft owned by the Edmonton-based engineering firm. In October 2008, company founder Allen Williams — Reagan’s father — and a senior executive died in a crash near Golden, B.C., although Williams’s three-year-old granddaughter miraculously survived.

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