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News release

2017 fatal aircraft accident near Schefferville Airport, Quebec, highlights the risks of low-altitude flying

Associated links (A17Q0050)

Dorval, Quebec, 5 July 2018 – The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released today its investigation report (A17Q0050) into the April 2017 accident involving an aircraft that crashed about 3.5 nautical miles northwest of Schefferville Airport, Quebec. The report highlights the risks posed by low-altitude flying.

On 30 April 2017, a Piper PA-31 Navajo aircraft operated by Exact Air Inc. with two pilots on board was conducting its second survey flight of the day in an area 90 nautical miles northwest of Schefferville Airport, Quebec. These survey flights were conducted at 300 feet above ground level. During the return flight to Schefferville, the aircraft descended and flew over terrain at an altitude varying between 100 and 40 feet above ground level. The aircraft then struck power transmission wires and collided with terrain northwest of Schefferville Airport. Both pilots were fatally injured. There was no post-impact fire and no emergency locator transmitter (ELT) signal was detected.

The investigation found that sensation seeking, mental fatigue, and an altered risk perception very likely contributed to the pilot descending to an altitude of between 100 and 40 feet above ground level and maintaining this altitude until the collision with the wires. It is highly likely that the pilots were unaware that there were power wires 70 feet above the ground in their path. The pilot flying did not detect the power wires in time to avoid them, thus the aircraft collided with the wires.

Exact Air Inc. was unaware that the occurrence pilots had frequently flown at very low altitudes while transiting between survey areas and the airport. The occurrence aircraft was not equipped with a lightweight flight recording system, nor was it required to by regulation. In addition to providing investigators with information on the sequence of events prior to an occurrence, a lightweight flight recording system can also help a company conduct flight data monitoring and flight operation quality assurance programs, to ensure that pilots follow company procedures and operational limits. The TSB has recommended (A18-01) the mandatory installation of lightweight flight recording systems by commercial operators and private operators not currently required to carry these systems.

No ELT signal was detected following the accident, as the antenna and antenna cable were damaged. Current ELT standards do not require a crashworthy antenna system. As a result, there is a risk that potentially life-saving search-and-rescue services will be delayed if an ELT antenna is damaged. The TSB made recommendations to Canadian and international authorities (A16-02, A16-03, A16-04, A16-05) calling for rigorous ELT system crash survivability standards to improve the likelihood that ELT signals are received. The response to these recommendations has been assessed as “Satisfactory Intent.”

Following the occurrence, Exact Air Inc. conducted an awareness campaign and held meetings with company staff regarding the causes of the accident and the risks associated with low-altitude flying.

The TSB is an independent agency that investigates air, marine, pipeline, and rail transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.

For more information, contact:
Transportation Safety Board of Canada
Media Relations
Telephone: 819-360-4376