Water bomber pilots likely won't be disciplined for crash

The crew of a water bomber that crashed in a Labrador lake last summer likely won't be disciplined, says the province's transportation minister.

Transportation minister says department dealing with number of issues in TSB report

Government workers survey the wreckage of a water bomber that crashed and sank in Moosehead Lake in July 2013. The plane was brought to the surface days later.

The crew of a water bomber that crashed in a Labrador lake last summer likely won't be disciplined, says the province's transportation minister.

That's despite a Transportation Safety Board report that pointed to pilot error as a key cause.

Neither the pilot nor co-pilot was injured in the July 3, 2013 incident on Moosehead Lake, but the $30-million aircraft was destroyed and sank to the bottom. The TSB report said the water bomber crashed because too much water was scooped up from the lake and it was too heavy to take off again.

The three-year-old plane was helping fight last summer's forest fires in the area, which had destroyed cabins and was threatening the towns of Wabush and Labrador City.

The report focused on switches that open and close doors on the belly of the water bomber, where the water is sucked in and later dumped on fires.


It said a switch was inadvertently moved to the "manual" position before the flight, leaving the crew to close the doors themselves once they had a safe amount of water on board. But the report said the crew was distracted by other duties and didn't realize they were overloaded until it was too late.

The TSB said one of those distractions was extreme stress on the pilot, who was going through a difficult personal crisis at the time. In fact, he had taken a "particularly distressing" call about the situation a few hours before the crash.

The co-pilot was aware of the crisis, and the pair discussed whether to make the flight, but in the end decided to go ahead with it.

According to the TSB report, "(The pilot) had considered taking a leave of absence, but in light of the (threat posed by the forest fires), had continued working. The pilot's level of distraction due to the effects of chronic stress created a situation in which errors were more likely to occur."

The report noted there is an employee assistance program that employees can avail of, but "doing so is acknowledged to be a significant and potentially intimidating step to take."

Transportation Minister Nick McGrath says the pilots of a waterbomber that crashed in a Labrador lake last summer likely won't be disciplined. (CBC)
Transportation Minister Nick McGrath says efforts have been made to change that impression.

"We certainly recognize how important it is that they be on the top shelf while they're doing their job," he said. "Hopefully, they will exercise the usage of that program because it is very important, like I said, that they be in their best form when they're performing their jobs."

The report also highlighted problems with training, flight checklists and other issues outside the pilots' control.

McGrath said given all the circumstances, the crew likely won't be punished.

"I don't think there's any disciplinary action to be taken here," he said.

"It's something that we will discuss in the department and certainly as a government will discuss. But I feel that after reading the report and the results that come out through the report, that the government is taking the right steps. And I guess I'm an optimist and I've always believed if there's a problem, find a solution.

The water bomber that crashed has since been replaced with a new one.


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