The cause of a deadly plane crash that claimed four lives has been released, just days after the one-year anniversary of the tragic event.
On Feb. 10, 2013, Darren Spence, 37, a crop duster based in southwestern Manitoba, was at the controls of the plane when it crashed just north of Waskada, killing him, his sons — 10-year-old Gage and nine-year-old Logan — and a friend of the boys, nine-year-old Dawson Pentecost.
Whiteout conditions and the loss of situational awareness are what led to the crash, according to a Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigation report released on Monday.
The report stated that about 30 minutes after the privately registered Cessna took flight, fog moved into the area. The investigation determined that the terrain, coupled with the reported weather conditions, was conducive to a whiteout. The report defined a whiteout as "a winter atmospheric optical phenomenon in which the observer appears to be engulfed in a uniformly white glow."
The report also said the weather, combined with snow-covered ground, likely made it difficult for the pilot to see the horizon.
"Whiteout conditions may result in a poorly defined visual horizon that will reduce the pilot’s ability to visually detect changes in altitude, airspeed and position. If visual cues are sufficiently degraded, the pilot may lose control of the aircraft or fly into the ground."
The investigation also revealed the crash occurred in an area of gently rolling highs, which at the time, were covered in snow.
The board said the pilot probably got disoriented and the plane flew into a farmer’s field.
"The pilot likely flew inadvertently into a whiteout, lost situational awareness and lost control of the aircraft, which resulted in an impact with terrain," according to the agency.
At the time, family said Dawson’s father, a volunteer firefighter, was one of the first to get to the wreckage after he received a message on his pager that a plane had gone down. He rushed out on snowmobile and discovered that no one had survived.
The board determined that Spence had completed all necessary pilot training and an annual questionnaire.
The questionnaire, aimed at updating pilots on changes in flying, had addressed the topic of whiteouts in previous years, but not since 2008.
"In order for a pilot to escape from whiteout conditions, it is necessary to either effectively transition from visual to instrument flight or be able to quickly regain sight of visual contrast," said the board’s report. "It is generally considered to be a difficult task for even an experienced instrument pilot to make a successful transition from visual to instrument flight after inadvertent entry into instrument meteorological conditions."
As reported earlier in the Sun, Waskada Mayor Gary Williams said the four who lost their lives in the crash have not been forgotten.
"They have been missed," Williams said in a recent interview. "They were all a big part of our community and it’s been tough, but the sports teams are trying to carry on and the kids at school are doing the same."
Eight days after the crash in February, 2013, more than 1,300 friends, family and community members descended on Waskada for the funerals. A week earlier, the TSB deployed a team of investigators to the site.
A TSB investigation has three phases — the field phase where the wreckage site is examined and witnesses are interviewed; the examination and analysis phase where records and tests are performed on the aircraft in a laboratory; and the report phase.
A TSB spokesman told the Sun recently that it’s difficult to predict timelines as each individual case is different.
"The TSB aims to publish investigation reports as quickly as possible, however, the agency takes the time necessary to do a quality investigation and to produce a report that will advance safety and meet the expectations of the Canadian public and the transportation industry," the spokesman said.
» Brandon Sun, with from The Canadian Press