The plane that crashed in 2008 and claimed the life of a St. Albert woman in the process was too heavy, had known mechanical problems, and a pilot whose training wasn’t up to date, says a report released last month.
The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) report into the crash, which claimed the life of local resident Rhonda Quirke and four other employees of A.D. Williams Engineering, found several significant problems with the plane that all combined to create a disaster.
The Piper Malibu six-seater plane bound for Winnipeg went down near Lloydminster shortly after take-off from the Edmonton City Centre Airport.
Investigators found the lead cause of the accident was a faulty gyroscope, or artificial horizon, which malfunctioned and caused the autopilot system to stop working.
With the instrument not working, the pilot, company president Regan Williams, struggled to keep the plane level as he flew the plane without it.
The faulty gyroscope was discovered before the flight, after pilots reported issues with the autopilot. Mechanics recommended it be replaced or overhauled, but the repairs were not completed.
Wray Tsuji, the investigator of the crash, said the pilot was aware the part was unreliable, but didn’t believe it was an imminent risk.
“He had it bench tested and it was tired,” said Tsuji. “He needed the instrument to complete this flight.”
Williams had also not been tested on partial-panel flight since 2001, which would have made it difficult to adapt quickly when the autopilot failed.
Tsuji said Williams was flying within regulations, but his skills might have been rusty.
“There is no requirement for him to keep his skills up and like any skills, if you don’t practice them you can lose them.”
The plane was fully loaded with fuel and had four passengers, the pilot and luggage, which would have made it very hard to control.
Tjusi said the aircraft was well above the recommended weight. He said with full fuel tanks it should only have had 265 pounds of weight, little more than the pilot and some luggage.
He said it made the situation worse when the instruments failed.
“The aircraft had been flown overweight a number of times and it worked fine, but in this case other things went wrong.”
Margot Ross-Graham, a vice-president with Williams Engineering, as the company is now known, said employees have flown commercially since the accident and the company does not have any private planes.
“We do not have aircraft. We have flown commercial since that time and we also do a lot of work via teleconference.”
In a statement, the company said the report’s release had brought back painful memories and their thoughts were with the victims’ families.
“The loss of these individuals was for many of us at Williams, the loss of dear friends.”