NEWS

Air Tindi pilot 'a hero' for landing Cessna safely on ice near Yellowknife

11/21/2014 07:18 EST | Updated 01/21/2015 05:59 EST
People in the aviation world are commending an Air Tindi pilot for landing a Cessna 208 Caravan safely Thursday on the ice of Great Slave Lake outside Yellowknife.

Shortly after leaving Yellowknife for Fort Simpson, the pilot tried to return to the city's airport and ended up landing the aircraft on the lake due to bad weather. The six people on board were all airlifted safely to Yellowknife several hours later. 

According to the Transport Canada incident report, the plane was undamaged.

"This pilot should be congratulated beyond all belief," says Jock Williams, a retired military pilot with 50 years of experience and a former flight safety officer with Transport Canada. 

"He did something that very few pilots do in equivalent circumstances: he took the opportunity to land the aircraft while it was still flyable, and he deserves some sort of medal for so doing. 

"At least on the last part of his action, he's a hero." 

Still, Williams said if he were investigating the incident, he'd ask the pilot when he started experiencing the ice's effect on the airplane and what he did about it.

The Cessna Caravan plane took off with a freezing drizzle warning in effect for the Yellowknife area. 

Williams says pilots aren't supposed to take off in icy conditions, and they have an obligation to check weather.

He says ice weighs planes down, interferes with its lift and makes it difficult to control.

Stay on ground

"There is no de-icing equipment in the world installed on an aircraft that will handle moderate to heavy icing or freezing drizzle or freezing rain," he says.

"We simply stay on the ground when we're faced with those circumstances. because no aircraft is certified to handle it or capable of handling it."

Cpl. Todd Scaplen, a spokesman for the Yellowknife RCMP, says three helicopters waited hours on Thursday for the weather to clear enough for them to take off.

Meanwhile, the passengers had left the plane and built a bonfire to keep warm. 

Just before noon, the helicopters were able to airlift the five passengers and pilot back to Yellowknife. 

"We had a lot of people mobilizing and ready on standby for what we were going to encounter, because the information wasn't clear initially," Scaplen said.

'Big hug'

"Once we started to get our assets out there and find the exact location, everything became much clearer for us, and we are happy with the end result that everybody is OK."

As the passengers arrived in Yellowknife, family awaited them. 

Nolene Villbrun's cousin Doris Erasmus was one of the six passengers. 

"I guess the main thing is they're all safe," Villbrun said. "And yeah, my first priority is to give her a big hug."

A team of investigators with the Transportation Safety Board is looking into the emergency landing.

The Air Tindi Cessna 208 Caravan is still on the ice of Great Slave Lake. The RCMP is helping to keep the scene secure until the investigators arrive. 

On mobile? Click here to listen to Allison Devereaux's interview with Jock Williams 

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