Pilot convicted of criminal negligence in fatal Winnipeg crash
Showed reckless disregard for others, judge concludes in rare ruling
Citing reckless behaviour, a Manitoba court has convicted a pilot of criminal negligence after he crash-landed his plane on a high-traffic Winnipeg intersection in 2002, killing one man and hurting several others.
Calgary-based commercial pilot Mark Tayfel was found guilty on Thursday of four counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, one count of criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of an aircraft.
In handing down her verdict, Justice Holly Beard rejected Tayfel's argument that it was simply an honest mistake that led to the fatal crash five years ago.
Balfour Derr, Tayfel's lawyer, told CBC News his client was hoping for an acquittal, describing the situation as an "accident."
"I know that he was very disappointed and obviously now very concerned as to what the next step might be," Balfour said Friday afternoon.
"He took it with a stiff upper lip, but I know that he's deeply affected by it."
Derr said he did not think his client deserved a jail sentence.Adatefor the sentencing has not been set.
Tayfel, 42,had been flying six American fishermen from a remote Manitoba fishing lodge on June 11,2002, when his twin-engine plane ran out of fuel. Both engines cut out shortly after he missed the runway on his first attempt to land at Winnipeg's airport, and the plane eventually came to a rest in the middle of McPhillips Street and Logan Avenue, a busy downtown Winnipeg intersection.
Passenger Chester Jones, 79, died from his injuries in hospital several weeks after the crash.
Jones's grandson, Blake Floodman, was 16 when he was returning with his grandfather from the same fishing trip. In court, Floodman, 21, recounted the flight from Gunisao Lake to Winnipeg.
"I thought I was going to die — as simple as that. I didn't know anyone that had survived a plane crash, so I didn't think I was going to," he testified in April. "Then I looked up to the fuel gauge itself and they both read empty."
Counter to Tayfel's claims that he should not have been held responsible for what happened, Beard concluded he made too many misjudgments and showed a reckless disregard for the lives of others.
He miscalculated the amount of fuel needed given the weather conditions and also decided to press on with the flight despite being aware of the possibility that the Piper Navajo aircraft was not equipped with a mandatory auto-pilot system, she ruled.
Family pleased with decision
Sheila Floodman-McAllister, Chester Jones's daughter, said Friday she's satisfied with the conviction.
"I'm pleased by the decision, and significantly impressed… by the amount of work and the well-thought-out decision that the judge made in this case," she told CBC News.
"I've been an attorney engaging in trial work for 28 years and one of the great frustrations in the role is that it often seems that the obvious can get lost in the murkiness of the law," she said. "In this case, it has always seemed very obvious what happened… and after 5½ years, sometimes you begin to think the obvious somehow doesn't seem to matter, that the ability to confuse and obfuscate prevails.
"But in this situation, after and despite that length of time, it appears that perhaps it didn't, so that's a rewarding feeling."
Still, she found it difficult to say if the conviction brought a conclusion to the case for her family.Her brother and one of her sons were among the five other passengers injured on the ill-fated flight.
"You hear people talk about these kinds of experiences, and they talk about closure. But the reality is that it's a component of closure. There really never is closure, because the whole thing was unnecessary."
Rare ruling believed 1st in Canada
Thursday's ruling was rare, as few commercial pilots have been convicted of criminal responsibility in air crashes. It's believed to be one of the first cases of its kind in Canada and will likely have huge implications for pilots who work for small charter services.
Aviation experts testified during the trial that had the plane been equipped with auto-pilot, Tayfel would have probably been able to land the plane safely on his first try.
The defence argued that the flight operator, Keystone Air, should take the blame because Tayfel's bosses pressured him to go ahead with the flight as scheduled. During cross-examination, though, Tayfel admitted he did not push the issue of the auto-pilot system any further with the chief pilot.