Nfld. & Labrador

Wrong bearing to blame for PAL plane's rocky landing in Stephenville in 2018: report

A Transportation Safety Board investigation has found a problem in the plane's landing gear caused it to skid on its nose down the runway during an emergency landing.

Report critical of pilot for using cell phone for 66-minute call during flight

This de Havilland Dash 8 operated by PAL Airlines skidded on its nose during an emergency landing in Stephenville in 2018. (Transportation and Safety Board of Canada)

The final report into the emergency landing of a PAL Airlines plane at the Stephenville airport in 2018 has identified the cause of the incident, as well as criticizing the pilot for using his cell phone to call his company for more than an hour before diverting to land.

The Transportation and Safety Board of Canada report, released Monday, stated the bearing in the nose landing gear of the Dash 8 aircraft was too small. The mistake was left over from a previous repair.

That caused a leak of hydraulic fluid, which prevented the landing gear from moving to the down-and-locked position during a flight on Nov. 15, 2018, from Churchill Falls to Deer Lake.

The plane approached the runway in Deer Lake, but pulled up when the wheels wouldn't lock in place.

According to the TSB report, the pilot spent the next 66 minutes on his cellphone with management at PAL, trying to troubleshoot the problem.

The investigator said the pilot's attention to the phone call "decreased the crew's shared situational awareness during critical phases of flight."

It also drained the plane's fuel substantially. By the time the decision was made to divert to Stephenville and attempt an emergency landing, the plane was using its reserve fuel supply.

"If pilots delay making a decision to divert, there is a risk that the fuel remaining may be insufficient to provide the flight endurance required to mitigate unforeseen circumstances at the diversion airport," the report reads.

The pilot had 10,000 hours logged flying Dash 8s and more than 19,000 total hours logged in the air.

When the plane touched down in Stephenville, the nose landing gear collapsed and the plane skidded on its nose.

All 47 passengers and four crew members were able to get off the plane safely, and there was no fire after the landing.

PAL made a pair of changes to its procedures following the incident, requiring more attention to be paid to the nose landing gear during layovers and pre-flight inspections.

Speaking with CBC News after the incident, several passengers described a scary scene in the air as they were told to brace themselves for an emergency landing in Stephenville.

One passenger said the landing itself was smooth considering the circumstances, and said there was only a slight jolt as the plane came to a halt.

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