ALBERTA
04/26/2018 12:22 EDT | Updated 04/26/2018 12:50 EDT

Pilot Likely Disoriented In Plane Crash That Killed Jim Prentice: Transportation Safety Board

The lack of concrete proof as to what happened was extremely frustrating for investigators.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-TSB
The aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff, killing the pilot and all three passengers aboard, including the former Alberta Premier Jim Prentice.

CALGARY — The Transportation Safety Board says the pilot of a plane that crashed, killing former Alberta premier Jim Prentice, was probably disoriented.

The Cessna Citation jet went down shortly after takeoff from Kelowna, B.C., on its way to the Springbank airport west of Calgary in October 2016.

The plane took off about 9:30 p.m. and shortly after took a steep descending right turn and hit the ground from 2,580 metres above sea level.

'Most plausible scenario'

The TSB says there were no flight recorders on board the aircraft, so investigators could not definitively determine the cause of the crash.

But the safety board says the ``most plausible scenario'' is that pilot Jim Kruk became spatially disoriented due to a heavy workload at the controls.

Kruk, a retired RCMP officer, optometrist Ken Gellatly, the father-in-law of one of Prentice's three daughters and Calgary businessman Sheldon Reid all died with Prentice.

"The most plausible scenario is that the pilot, who was likely dealing with a high workload associated with flying the aircraft alone, experienced spatial disorientation and departed from controlled flight shortly after takeoff,'' the TSB said in a release issued ahead of a news conference in Calgary.

Pilots who do not have sufficient night proficiency are at a greater risk of experiencing what's known as spatial disorientation.

The investigation also determined that the pilot did not have enough recent experience flying after dark.

"The pilot, although experienced, had very little recent experience flying at night with just two night takeoffs in the past six months. This did not meet Transport Canada's requirements to carry passengers at night,'' said Beverley Harvey, senior investigator at the TSB.

"Pilots who do not have sufficient night proficiency are at a greater risk of experiencing what's known as spatial disorientation.''

Prentice was Alberta's premier from October 2014 until his election loss the following spring when the Progressive Conservatives were kicked out by the NDP after more than 40 years in power.

Todd Korol / Reuters
Then-Alberta Premier Jim Prentice addresses supporters after he was elected in the Calgary Foothills riding Oct. 27, 2014.

Harvey said the "physical illusions'' that accompany disorientation while flying can occur during prolonged acceleration such as during an initial climb after takeoff.

"Even though they are erroneous, these sensations can be intense causing pilots to doubt their instruments, to incorrectly adjust controls or even put the aircraft into an accidental spiral dive.''

The lack of concrete proof as to what happened was extremely frustrating for investigators, she said.

We don't like having to say we don't know when asked what caused an accident or why.

Kathy Fox, the safety board's chairwoman, said the plane involved in the crash was not required to have a flight data recorder. The Transportation Safety Board is recommending such recorders, as well as cockpit recorders, be required on all commercial and private business aircraft.

"We don't like having to say we don't know when asked what caused an accident or why,'' Fox said. "We want to provide definitive answers to the victims' families, to Canada's aviation industry and to the Canadian public.''

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