Decisions made by an Alkan Air pilot while flying in poor weather were among the main contributors to a fatal crash near Mayo last year, an investigation by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has found.
The TSB released its report July 29 on the crash that killed 24-year-old Shawn Kitchen, an Alkan Air pilot from Whitehorse, and 33-year-old Julia Lane, a Vancouver geologist and the aircraft’s lone passenger, on Aug. 6, 2019.
According to the report, the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan being piloted by Kitchen had departed the Rau Strip, located within the Rackla Gold Project in central Yukon, just after 11 a.m. that day en route to Mayo.
It was Kitchen’s fourth flight of the day, the report says, and he had previously flown from Mayo to Rackla Strip, back to Mayo, and then to the Rau Strip.
Shortly after taking off, the flight encountered low cloud levels, with the plane flying, at some points as low as 100 to 200 feet above the terrain.
However, GPS data showed that the plane did not slow down to account for the reduced visibility, and, at one point, turned into a box canyon.
“The pilot turned into the box canyon likely believing that it was the continuation of Granite Creek as it turned to the south, toward the west end of Mayo Lake,” the report says, referring to a route Kitchen would have flown earlier that day.
“The GPS did not record a change of altitude that would suggest the pilot was trying to perform a best angle of climb manoeuvre … to clear the ridge of the box canyon. Instead, there was a slight increase in altitude that followed the initial gradual elevation terrain in the box canyon.”
The elevation of the canyon floor abruptly increased within less than one nautical mile, the report says, “and the low visibility prevented the pilot from detecting this and taking sufficient actions to prevent collision with terrain.”
The crash would not have been survivable due to the force of the impact.
‘The pilot’s decision-making would have been affected by his familiarity with the route and, consequently, he likely did not consider an alternate route to avoid the poor weather conditions,” the TSB said in a press release.
The report noted that Alkan Air has taken several actions to address safety since the crash, including updating its training program for the Cessna 208B Grand Caravan to include low-level route training and rotating out the flight crew assigned to the Mayo base more frequently.
In a press release following the publication of the report, Alkan Air president Wendy Tayler “appreciate(s) the effort of the Transportation Safety Board in preparing this report as we continually work with the agency as a company and as an industry to ensure the health and safety of our employees and passengers.”
“The entire Alkan Air team extends our sincere condolences to Shawn’s and Julia’s family, friends and colleagues … Alkan Air thanks Yukoners for the support they continue to demonstrate and for their understanding during this time,” she said.
Lane’s spouse filed a lawsuit against Alkan Air earlier this month, alleging that negligence on the part of the pilot and by extension, Alkan Air, was responsible for the crash; the press release said that, given the legal action, it wouldn’t be “appropriate for the company to comment on the accident, the TSB report or any related issues.”
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