New Brunswick

Pilot recovering, plane destroyed in crash near Fredericton

The student pilot of a small plane that crashed late Tuesday in the forest between Fredericton and Minto is expected to make a full recovery.

Moncton Flight College CEO says there was a problem with the aircraft, forcing emergency landing

A student pilot is recovering after his plane crashed Tuesday night in a forest near Fredericton. 2:07

The student pilot of a small plane that crashed late Tuesday in the forest between Fredericton and Minto is expected to make a full recovery.

Firefighters and police tend to pilot injured in crash of plane from Moncton Flight College. (Fredericton Fire Department)
The plane, which went down at about 11 p.m. near Noonan, was destroyed, according to Fredericton fire officials.

The Diamond DA-20 flew out of the Fredericton campus of the Moncton Flight College.

Company CEO Mike Tilley says there was a problem with the aircraft that the pilot could not resolve and that it was an emergency landing.

The 22-year-old pilot, who was the lone occupant, did "tremendously" well and played a big role in his rescue by remaining calm, radioing the tower before taking the plane down and calling 911, said Tilley.

"The student informed Fredericton tower that he would need to make an off-airport landing in a remote area," said Tilley in a statement. "Following the landing, the student exited the aircraft and made contact with the RCMP by cell phone and remained in constant contact until his rescue."

Tilley describes the injuries of the young pilot as "minor" and said he is "very" stable after being airlifted to a Fredericton hospital.

"We appreciate the outpouring of concern for the student pilot’s well-being," said Tilley. "He is expected to make a full recovery from minor injuries."

Tilley said initial findings indicate this was an isolated issue and the investigation is ongoing.

Transportation Safety Board officials say the engine lost power about 11 nautical miles before reaching the Fredericton International Airport.

Cellphone helped save life

Fredericton Fire Department Assistant Deputy Chief David McKinley says the pilot's cellphone helped rescue efforts. (Melissa Oakley/CBC)
Bob Dewitt, who lives near the crash site, says he knew right away something was wrong.

"The wife said, 'There goes a police car,' and I looked out the window and one went by, and the next one by, and then the next one went by. And then there was just a steady line of ambulances and firetrucks."

Fredericton Fire Department Platoon Capt. Steve Fraser says rescuers on snowmobiles and an Argo all-terrain vehicle reached the downed plane a couple of hours after it crashed.

It was located a couple of kilometres into the woods, so it took some time to find, said Assistant Deputy Fire Chief David McKinley.

The pilot's cellphone helped save his life, McKinley said.

"It was a huge difference having the GPS co-ordinates because … the plane was upside down, so the beacon on top was not visible from the air," McKinley said.

"And since we were able to get GPS co-ordinates, we used our hand-held GPS to actually punch in the co-ordinates that we received from dispatch and make our way straight to the scene."

Dramatic rescue

A plane from the Moncton Flight College crashed late Tuesday in the forest between Fredericton and Minto. (CBC)
Still, they faced challenges, said Fraser.

"They went as far as they could with the Argo snowmobiles, then had to traverse through the trees to reach the plane site," he said. "It was very difficult terrain.

"It was frozen swamp. Firefighters were breaking through some ice there. It wasn't deep swamp, but it was very difficult terrain."

Firefighters arrived at the scene to find the injured pilot awaiting rescue. He was in a lot of pain, but alert.

"The pilot had crawled out through, I believe, the windshield," said Fraser. "He crawled into the snow and awaited rescue there.

"He had serious injuries and hypothermia as well. It was a cold night out there, minus 18."

High maintenance standards

Firefighters were busy clearing the dense brush in case the pilot could not be airlifted out. The backup plan was to take him out on a sled.

But the pilot was transported to hospital by a Cormorant helicopter that had been dispatched from the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Halifax.

"The emergency response from the MFC staff, Fredericton International Airport, RCMP, and all Search and Rescue professionals was excellent and well-coordinated," said Tilley.

Transport Canada has very high maintenance standards for flight schools and the college is "very compliant," said Tilley.

Planes have different levels of maintenance depending on the number of hours of flight, he said.

The college has its own maintenance staff and engineers.

The tech logs will be reviewed today, said Tilley.

Transportation Safety Board officials are in contact with the company and gathering information, but are not deploying investigators to the site.

RCMP say no foul play is suspected at this time.