British Columbia

Wearing of life-jackets to become mandatory on some seaplane flights

The changes are being made in response to Transportation Safety Board of Canada recommendations following investigations into a 2009 crash off Saturna Island, B.C., and another in Ontario's Lillabelle Lake in 2012.

New Transport Canada regulations follow recommendations after 2009 crash off Saturna Island that killed 6

The wreckage of a seaplane is lifted from the waters of Lyall Harbour off Saturna Island following a crash that killed six people in 2009. (Canadian Press)

Seaplane passengers and crew members will soon be required to wear life-jackets on certain flights, according to changes to Canadian aviation regulations announced Wednesday.

Patrick Morrissey, whose wife Dr. Kerry Telford Morrissey and infant daughter Sarah died in a 2009 seaplane crash off Saturna Island, B.C., applauded the announcement. 

"This definitely — not maybe — definitely will save lives," he said.

According to a Transport Canada news release, commercial seaplane operators now have 18 months to implement the new measures, which requires that people aboard commercial seaplanes with nine passengers or less wear an inflatable flotation device while the aircraft operates on or over water. 

The wreckage of a seaplane is lifted onto a barge in Lyall Harbour in December 2009. (The Canadian Press)

For seaplanes carrying 10-19 passengers, flotation devices will continue to be required onboard for all occupants, but they will not be required to wear the devices.

Additionally, commercial seaplane pilots will now have to undertake mandatory training on how to get out of an aircraft while underwater. Pilot exit training must be implemented within 36 months.

'Heading in the right direction'

According to the release, the changes are being made in response to Transportation Safety Board of Canada recommendations following investigations into the Saturna Island crash and another in Ontario's Lillabelle Lake in 2012. 

But a retired TSB aviation investigator who worked on the Saturna crash believes the changes could have gone further by requiring emergency exits on seaplanes, as was recommended in the report he helped write.

"This will help persons that remain conscious after a water accident and are able to exit the aircraft," said Bill Yearwood. "But none of this helps the persons trapped in a twisted wreckage with jammed doors."

Meanwhile, the Floatplane Operators Association, which represents the industry, told CBC in a statement that although it has worked with Transport Canada on the regulations, it has "some questions and concerns with the regulations."

Association President Vince Crooks said his group "embraces the spirit of safety" and will push Transport Canada to address its concerns.

Morrissey says more regulations requiring pop-out windows and intuitive door handles would have been the icing on the cake. 

"At the same time, there are quite a few operators who have just decided to go with some of those safety devices anyway, including the major players in the States, he said. "At the very least, we are heading in the right direction."

Six people died in the crash in Saturna Island's Lyall Harbour. Their bodies were found inside the submerged plane, which had its exit doors jammed shut when the plane buckled on impact.

The pilot and one passenger survived after they escaped though a door that had popped open beside where they were seated.

With files from Yvette Brend

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