British Columbia

B.C. pilot killed in Australian crash was overcome by carbon monoxide, investigation shows

More than two years after a respected pilot from B.C. died in an Australian seaplane crash, investigators say he was likely incapacitated by carbon monoxide from a leaky exhaust system.

Gareth Morgan and 5 British tourists died north of Sydney on Dec. 31, 2017

Gareth Morgan, 44, died in a plane crash alongside his five passengers in 2017. (Gareth Morgan/Instagram)

More than two years after a respected pilot from B.C. died in an Australian seaplane crash, investigators say he was likely incapacitated by carbon monoxide from a leaky exhaust system.

Gareth Morgan, who grew up in North Vancouver, died alongside five British tourists when the DHC-2 Beaver he was piloting crashed into a bay north of Sydney on Dec. 31, 2017.

According to an investigation update published Friday by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), post-mortem blood tests performed on Morgan, 44, and two of his passengers showed elevated levels of carbon monoxide. 

"From that consultation with medical experts, and research into the effects of carbon monoxide on aircraft operations, the ATSB considers the levels of carbon monoxide were likely to have adversely affected the pilot's ability to control the aircraft," ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood said in a press release.

Investigators who examined the floatplane wreckage discovered a crack in the engine's exhaust system, which would have caused fumes to leak into the engine bay. 

They also discovered that bolts were missing from the firewall that separates the engine bay from the cabin of the plane, allowing the fumes to enter the area where Morgan and his passengers were sitting.

The investigation into the crash is still underway, but the ATSB said it was necessary to inform the public about these findings so measures can be taken to prevent another tragedy.

The wreckage of the DHC-2 Beaver seaplane was examined to determine the carbon monoxide source. (Australian Transportation Safety Bureau)

"The ATSB is reminding aircraft maintainers that the primary mechanism for the prevention of carbon monoxide exposure to aircraft occupants is to carry out regular inspections of aircraft exhaust systems to identify and repair holes and cracks, and to detect breaches in the firewall," he said.

The plane's owner, Sydney Seaplanes, said in a statement it had a strict program for engine maintenance and inspection which was performed by a regulator-approved organization.

'Extremely experienced pilot'

Morgan was taking a prominent British businessman and his family on a sightseeing tour when the crash happened. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff, and witnesses reported seeing the aircraft flying low over a bay before suddenly entering a steep right turn and diving into the Hawksbury River.

Morgan was a dual citizen of Canada and Australia, and his bosses at Sydney Seaplanes described him as an "extremely experienced pilot" with more than 10,000 hours of flight time, who was liked and respected by his co-workers.

His friends in B.C. described Morgan as a devout Christian who volunteered as a Big Brother and travelled with his church on missions abroad.

Compass Group CEO Richard Cousins, his fiancee Emma Bowden, her 11-year-old daughter Heather Bowden-Page, and his two sons William, 25, and Edward, 23, were also killed in the crash.

With files from The Associated Press

now