Magdalen Islands crash probe to look at plane, pilot training

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada will soon wrap up the first phase of its investigation into the Magdalen Islands plane crash that killed seven people, including former politician and pundit Jean Lapierre along with several members of his family.

Transportation Safety Board looking into cause of crash that killed 7, including Jean Lapierre

Transportation Safety Board looking into cause of crash that killed 7, including Jean Lapierre 1:50

The small plane that crashed in the Magdalen Islands earlier this week — killing former federal Liberal cabinet minister and political commentator Jean Lapierre and several members of his family — was a model that was prone to accidents and required special pilot training.

But the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said it is still unclear whether difficulties with the Mitsubishi MU-2B were a factor in the crash. 

Senior investigator André Turenne acknowledged at a news conference in the Magdalen Islands Friday that the ​MU-2B has had a spotty safety record. However, he added that Mitsubishi has developed a special training program to help pilots compensate for the plane's vulnerabilities. 

"We will look at whether this process of requalification was a factor," he said. "Did the pilot have the competence?" 

TSB officials released more details about the crash at the news conference as they prepared to end the first phase of their investigation. They stressed, however, that it was too early to speculate about a cause. 

A team of investigators has spent the past several days collecting witness statements and evidence from the crash site, about three kilometres from the Magdalen Islands airport. 

"The first phase is concluding," Turenne said. "Much work remains to be done."

Turenne confirmed preliminary observations that indicated the plane crashed on its approach to the airfield near Havre-aux-Maisons.

He added the plane's engines appeared to be operational at the time of the crash, and its wings were relatively level when it made impact with the ground.  

"We know it wasn't going straight down," Turenne said. "There was a bit of rolling on the left side."

Over the coming days, the TSB team will begin preparing the wreckage to be moved to its laboratory in Ottawa. Turenne said that will facilitate attempts to retrieve the plane's GPS device.

It is believed to be lodged in the cockpit, Turenne said, but the instrument panel is too heavily damaged to access it. 

The ​MU-2B is not equipped with a black box, but its GPS device does have voice-recording capability. 

"We can't guarantee that all the information will be available," Turenne said. "It is not a device designed to withstand impacts."

Lapierre, along with his wife, sister and two brothers, were headed to the Magdalen Islands on Tuesday to attend the funeral of Lapierre's father when their plane crashed on its approach to the Havre-aux-Maisons airport. 

The plane's pilot, Pascal Gosselin, and co-pilot, Fabrice Labourel, were also killed. There were no survivors.

​The tragedy has devastated the small island community and stunned Quebec's political class.

One of the founding members of the Bloc Québécois before returning to the federal Liberal fold to become Paul Martin's Quebec lieutenant, Lapierre had friends and allies across Quebec's political spectrum. 

Along with having served as federal transport minister, Lapierre was a popular political commentator in both French and English.