ALBERTA

Alta Flights Pipeline Patrol Pilot Taking Photos Before Fatal Claresholm Crash

08/19/2013 10:19 EDT | Updated 10/19/2013 05:12 EDT
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CLARESHOLM, Alta. - An investigation into a fatal plane crash in southern Alberta last summer warns about the dangers of distracted flying.

The pilot and only person on board the Alta Flights Ltd. plane had been on a routine patrol of energy pipelines when the aircraft stalled, entered a spin and crashed near Claresholm last Aug. 26.

The Transportation Safety Board report says the highly experienced pilot was turning at low altitude in a small, single-engine Cessna 172M while he was also taking photographs.

"The conduct of single-pilot, low-level pipeline patrols that include the additional task of photography can increase the potential for distraction from primary flying and increase the risk of loss of control," says the report.

"However, there are no definite explanations for the loss of control on this flight."

The report says the weather was clear at the time of the crash and the qualified pilot had been doing pipeline patrols for nine years.

Pilots on pipeline patrols routinely take photographs with a hand-held camera while they perform steep turns at altitudes as low as 60 metres.

They point the camera out the left window and gaze through the camera viewfinder as they shoot the photos with one hand while flying the plane with the other hand.

"The pilot would have been viewing the outside world through a hand-held camera at a time when the aircraft was in a critical phase of flight," the report says.

"At this time, the pilot's attention would have been distracted from control and monitoring of the aircraft."

The name of the Edmonton-based pilot was not released.

Board spokesman John Lee said Monday that the board will present the report's findings at safety meetings this year to raise awareness.

He said pipeline monitoring companies are already discussing the report, which was posted on the Internet on Friday.

"The folks who are in the industry are very aware of it," Lee said. "They will be taking this report and reading it, and we are hoping that they will take away lessons learned from this."

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