Engine failure and an overloaded plane were to blame for a crash landing of a Buffalo Airways plane at the Yellowknife airport in August 2013, according to the Transportation Safety Board.
The TSB report also found that what happened that day — passengers and luggage allowed on board without being weighed — was common practice at Buffalo at the time.
The TSB says Buffalo Airways pilots typically filled out forms detailing the weight and balance of the plane after takeoff and without accurate information about the load.
"An actual takeoff weight was not determined," reads the report, released Monday. "Passengers and their luggage were not weighed when they checked in, which was in contravention of company procedures."
'I was pretty sure it was over'
On Aug. 19, the Buffalo Airways DC-3 was loaded with 21 passengers heading to Hay River. Just after its wheels left the runway, the right engine caught fire.
"As that plane spun around as we hit the ground, or more when the flames were streaming out the right hand side, I was pretty sure it was over," recalls one passenger, David Connelly.
The crew turned back towards the airport. They feathered the propeller of the blown engine, turning the blades to reduce drag. But the blades then unfeathered, making it even more difficult to get the plane back to the runway. After clipping a stand of trees, the plane came down hard on its belly south of the runway with its landing gear still retracted. None of the passengers or three crew members were hurt.
The TSB estimates the plane was 560 kilograms over its maximum weight limit for takeoff. Research has indicated that type of aircraft should be able to continue climbing with only one engine if it is at or below its maximum weight limit.
The airline has since begun to enforce the practice of weighing individual passengers and baggage in order to calculate a weight and balance prior to departure.
'Repeated diatribes' against Transport Canada
While steps have been taken to alter company practice following the 2013 incident, the report notes Buffalo's response to a 2009 Transport Canada inspection, where the company questioned the authority of the regulator and criticized the competence of the inspector in "repeated diatribes."
"The picture presented by the TSB review was one of an operator at odds with the regulator," the report says.
Connelly says that's disturbing.
"If you live in the North, you have to fly weekly, daily, and you'd hope that the operator and the regulators responsible for safety could play well in the same sandbox and literally weren't calling each other names."
The owner of Buffalo Airways was not immediately available for comment.