Passengers in Fond-du-Lac plane crash file class-action suit against airline

Lawyer Tony Merchant filed a statement of claim against West Wind Aviation in the Court of Queen's Bench in Regina on Wednesday on behalf of six of the 22 people who were on a plane that crashed shortly after takeoff in Fond-du-Lac, Sask., last month.

Statement of claim alleges passengers 'were left to fend for themselves'

Several of the 22 people who were aboard a plane that crashed shortly after takeoff in Fond-du-Lac, Sask., last month and their families are suing the airline. (Merchant Law Group)

Six of the 22 people who were aboard a plane that crashed shortly after takeoff in Fond-du-Lac, Sask., last month and their families are suing the airline, according to the passengers' lawyer.

Tony Merchant of Regina's Merchant Law Group says West Wind Aviation should not have flown on Dec. 13 for several reasons, including because the plane had weight issues.

"There was talk even among the staff of the plane being overweight," said Merchant. "There were issues of the placement of the people on the plane and the way the weight was distributed."

Merchant also said no directions were given to passengers as the plane went down — "not a word."

West Wind Aviation's office in Saskatoon. (CBC)

According to the statement of claim — which Merchant filed in the Regina Court of Queen's Bench first thing Wednesday morning — "there was no warning or indication from the pilot or flight staff that there were problems during the crash.

"The passengers were left to fend for themselves in the chaos of the accident."

"No appropriate steps" were taken to de-ice the runway or the plane at the Fond-du-Lac airport, the statement of claim also says.

None of the allegations has been proven in court. To proceed, the proposed class action has to be approved by a judge.

Merchant said the statement of claim is based on the experiences of his clients, and from other sources.

The statement of claim also names Athabasca Basin Development — a group of seven northern Saskatchewan communities that owns 65 per cent of West Wind Aviation.

The CEO of Athabasca Basin Development said statements regarding the lawsuit would come from West Wind Aviation.

Airline issues statement

West Wind Aviation's flights are currently grounded.

The company issued a statement Wednesday morning through Dennis Baranieski, vice president of business development and corporate services.

"We are hearing that legal proceedings may be initiated. If this does come to pass, we certainly will respect the legal process and its due diligence processes," Baranieski said.

The company has 20 days to file a statement of defence.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada is investigating the cause of the crash and is not expected to release its results for several months.

Transport Canada suspended West Wind Aviation's air operator certificate after the crash due to "deficiencies in the company's operational control system."

Operational control systems track a number of things, including:

  • A plane's maintenance history.
  • The weight of a plane's luggage and cargo and how that weight is distributed throughout the plane.
  • Communication between pilots, dispatchers and other on-the-ground airline employees.
  • The field experience of the pilots and how many hours they worked before a flight that crashed.

Parents of passenger who died among claimants

Merchant said that group includes the parents of Arson Fern Jr., the 19-year-old passenger who died in hospital two weeks after the crash.

Arson Fern Jr. was one of those aboard the West Wind Aviation plane that crashed last month. The 19-year-old later died of his injuries. (Fern family/GoFundMe)

Several other people were seriously injured.

"Broken ribs, serious head injuries, internal bleeding," said Merchant. "A number of members are still in hospital, which is indicative of the seriousness of their injuries."

"There's also the issue of compensation for shock, PTSD, emotional distress," added Merchant. "In some instances they watched horrific things happen to people they knew and friends."

$5K given to each survivor: court documents

According to the statement of claim, about one week after the crash, West Wind gave each survivor $5,000 plus a note extending "thoughts and prayers." 

"In an effort to provide some help over the Christmas break during this difficult time, please accept this $5,000," read the note, according to the statement of claim. 

"In no way does this money constitute a waiver for any future legal claims you may wish to make."

The company has also provided survivors third-party grief counselling following the crash, according to its Facebook page.

Another photo of the wreck attached to the statement of claim in a class action announced Wednesday. (Merchant Law Group)

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips, ideas, complaints, just want to say 'Hi'? Write me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

With files from CBC's Micki Cowan