Float plane hits shore
Five walk away from crash unhurt

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services

NNSL (July 28/99) - A single-engine Beaver float plane, owned and operated by Air Thelon Ltd., crashed into a rocky shoreline after takeoff late last Tuesday, July 20, at Whitefish Lake, approximately 350 kilometres southeast of Yellowknife.

According to Peter Hildebrandt, a Transportation Safety Board officer, the plane carrying one pilot and four passengers was attempting takeoff on the lake when it ran out of space and hit a peninsula.

"It loaded up, taxied and took off but did not establish a rate of climb before crashing into the rocky shoreline," Hildebrandt said.

"It appears that the plane was under gross (within weight restriction) and it does not appear that there were mechanical problems."

Three passengers on the plane had been at Whitefish Lake to film wildlife while the fourth passenger was a guide with Great Canadian Ecoventures.

After the crash, the pilot radioed back for help and an Air Thelon plane came to their aid the following morning at approximately 3 a.m. while another plane was chartered from First Air to pick up the remaining passengers a few hours later.

All were taken to Stanton Regional Hospital and later treated and released with no significant injuries.

As far as the extent of damage to the plane, Hildebrandt reported that it was severe.

"There was substantial damage to the plane," Hildebrandt said. "The floats were broken off. There was a lot of damage to the engine, the propeller, belly and horizontal tail."

The single-engine Beaver had been in service since 1954 and there have been no prior problems reported with the aircraft.

Tom Faess, owner of Air Thelon Ltd, said the pilot's inexperience with flying in the Barren Lands contributed to the incident.

"He is a new pilot and this is his first experience flying in the Barrens," Faess said.

"He is a relatively experienced bush pilot who's been through rigorous tests but flying in the Barrens is much different than flying in the bush.

"In the Barrens, low-light conditions can often create the illusion that distances appear greater than they really are. He actually had enough room to take off and he would have been able to but he lost definition of the peninsula that he ran into."

According to Faess, the situation could have been a lot more serious if not for the expertise of the guide accompanying the group.

"We are proud of our emergency response time," Faess said.

"Thanks to the iridium phone, which allowed us to respond immediately and the medical expertise of the eco-trip leader (guide) who has International Wilderness First Aid."

"Within a half-hour of the incident, the guide had tents set up, a fire made and everybody was laughing about it later."