The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is calling for more training for float-plane pilots and better shoulder harness restraints, following its investigation into a fatal crash at Lillabelle Lake in northern Ontario.

On May 25, 2012, the de Havilland Beaver float plane operated by Cochrane Air service stalled and crashed during a second attempt to land in gusty conditions.

All three people aboard survived the initial impact, but only one person was able to successfully escape; the other two drowned, said the TSB report.

Float plane crash

On May 25, 2012, the de Havilland Beaver float plane operated by Cochrane Air service stalled and crashed during a second attempt to land in gusty conditions, killing two people on board.

On the heels of a TSB investigation, it is making two recommendations "aimed at improving the odds that anyone who survives a float-plane crash will get out alive."

“In an emergency, you only have seconds to orient yourself and escape, and the right training can make the difference between life and death. Pilots with underwater egress training stand a better chance of helping themselves and their passengers survive,” said chair Wendy Tadros.

 “Another thing that will help immeasurably is shoulder harnesses. Too many passengers survive a float-plane crash only to drown because they have suffered some kind of head trauma and can’t get out of the aircraft.”

Recommendations aim to prevent deaths

These new recommendations are in addition to two outstanding ones aimed at making float planes safer, said Tadros in a statement released on Wednesday.

After an investigation into the fatal 2009 float-plane crash that killed six passengers in Lyall Harbour, B.C., the TSB called for pop-out windows and doors to better facilitate egress and for personal flotation devices for all passengers.

Transport Canada has committed to making flotation devices mandatory, but has not committed to requiring float-plane doors and windows to come off easily after a crash.

“When a float plane crashes on water, approximately 70 per cent of crash victims die from drowning. All four board recommendations are aimed at changing that reality,” said Tadros.

“Transport Canada needs to treat all four recommendations with the seriousness they deserve, and take every measure to prevent more from dying in otherwise survivable accidents.”

Education most important

But one pilot is skeptical of the new recommendations, especially the requirement for float planes to have pop-out windows and doors.

Pilot Ray Makela, operator of Lauzon Aviation air charter service in Blind River, Ont., says the devices just cause a different set of issues when flying a float plane.

"They're having just as much problem with people accidentally knocking the windows out while the airplane is taxiing on the water," he said.

Makela says that explaining emergency procedures to anyone boarding a float-plane is the best way to improve safety. 

"[What matters is] that the people have good safety briefings before they board the aircraft, so they know where the doors are and how the seatbelts operate, where the life jackets are, and how to properly get out of the airplane in the safest manner possible," he said.