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No cause yet for fatal Snow Lake air crash

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 
Transportation Safety Board of Canada regional manager Peter Hildebrand shows the motor and damaged propeller of the plane that crashed.

WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Transportation Safety Board of Canada regional manager Peter Hildebrand shows the motor and damaged propeller of the plane that crashed.

THERE'S no cause yet for the fatal Snow Lake air crash, but neither has anything been ruled out.

Transportation Safety Board of Canada
The scene of the fatal Nov. 18 crash.

Enlarge Image

Transportation Safety Board of Canada The scene of the fatal Nov. 18 crash.

The Nov. 18 late-morning crash near the Snow Lake airport killed 40-year-old pilot Mark Gogal and injured the seven passengers, all men working for a mining company.

"We don't want to rule anything out at this point," Peter Hildebrand, regional manager for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, told a news conference Tuesday. "We're not identifying the cause at this stage."

Hildebrand said investigators don't know what height the plane reached on takeoff, and "it may not be possible to determine a hard number on that.

"It descended at a steep angle -- it hit the ground and stopped in 50 feet."

Hildebrand displayed a very badly damaged propeller: "It indicated a substantial amount of power was being applied."

Hildebrand said the Cessna 208 had cleared takeoff and had flown about a kilometre on its flight to Winnipeg before suddenly crashing and stopping abruptly on a slight rise of rocky ground and trees.

Investigators have interviewed some of the passengers, but are not prepared to disclose what they've said.

There has been no autopsy report yet on Gogal, said Hildebrand. If the pilot had suffered a health problem, Hildebrand said he would not reveal it at this stage of the investigation.

Snow Lake airport has no radar. "It's uncontrolled airspace. The nearest radar is Thompson and The Pas," and the plane was far too low to be picked up on those radars, he said.

Hildebrand repeatedly cited small aircraft as the most likely to have accidents and the most likely to involve fatalities.

"There is not a certified flight recorder, nor is there required to be," he said, pointing to several recommendations the TSBC has previously made to Transport Canada, without success.

The board has advised Ottawa to add flight recorders to small aircraft, to improve navigational equipment and install a safety-management system, among other improvements, he said.

Gogal Air Services has had previous incidents -- which Hildebrand would not identify -- but, "I won't say this operator's record is better or worse than any other."

In the last decade, said Hildebrand, aircraft of nine or fewer seats accounted for 91 per cent of the air accidents in Canada, and 93 per cent of the fatalities, involving 134 deaths.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

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