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Air Tindi plane in Great Slave Lake forced landing took off overweight for icy weather

An Air Tindi plane that was forced to land on Great Slave Lake in November 2014 was dispatched overweight for the icy weather conditions that day, according to the Transportation Safety Board.

Airline changes Cessna Caravan policies: 'If there’s a potential for icing we just don’t fly the aircraft'

An Air Tindi Cessna Caravan made an emergency landing on Great Slave Lake in the early morning of Nov. 20, 2014, due to icing. Five passengers and the pilot escaped unharmed. (Transportation Safety Board/Facebook)

An Air Tindi plane that was forced to land on Great Slave Lake in November 2014 took off overweight for the icy weather conditions that day, according to the Transportation Safety Board.

The Cessna 208B Caravan carrying five passengers was on its way to Fort Simpson from Yellowknife on Nov. 20, 2014, when the pilot was unable to maintain altitude due to icing and was forced to land on ice in the North Arm of the lake.

A Transportation Safety Board photo shows ice buildup on the Cessna Caravan. (TSB)

No one was injured but the airplane was damaged when it struck a rock outcropping. The pilot and passengers were rescued four hours later.

The report says inadequate awareness of the aircraft's limitations in icing conditions and incomplete weight and balance calculations led to the plane being dispatched overweight for the forecast icing conditions. The aircraft was 155 kilograms above its certified maximum weight for flight into known icing conditions, and its centre of gravity was also not within limits.

It also says the pilot underestimated the icing conditions that would be encountered during the flight and didn't use all the weather information available.

Plane landed 500 metres north of open water

The flight that left Yellowknife at about 6:45 a.m. that morning had been rescheduled from the night before due to freezing drizzle at Fort Simpson. As it climbed, the plane encountered icing conditions and about 30 minutes into the flight, the pilot headed back toward Yellowknife.

Fred Burow, a senior operations investigator with TSB's regional office in Edmonton, says that by that point in the flight, ice had "accumulated to the point where the aircraft was almost not flyable."

Unable to maintain altitude, the plane first touched down on the ice about 500 metres north of open water. After bouncing about 700 metres along the ice, the plane hit a rocky outcropping, losing its nose and the left landing gear. It finally came to rest 200 metres farther on.

Investigators say the pilot's skill in keeping the plane under control during the descent and level when it landed helped minimize damage and potential injury.

"With the amount of ice that was on it, the pilot did manage to keep a certain level of control which, I believe, saved everybody on board that aircraft," said Burow.

An aerial view, looking south, of the site where an Air Tindi Cessna Caravan landed on the North Arm of Great Slave Lake on Nov. 20, 2014. (Transportation Safety Board)

Survival kit stored with cargo

The report says that although passengers had been briefed on how to open the cabin door in the event of an emergency, they weren't able to, and had to exit through one of the cockpit doors.

The plane's survival kit had been stored in the belly of the plane and damage sustained in the landing made it hard to access. Not all of its contents could be recovered. Passengers' baggage and winter clothing had also been stored in the belly of the plane and were not accessible.

They used foil blankets from the survival kit for warmth and started a fire on a nearby island while waiting for the weather to clear enough for rescue aircraft to be dispatched.

Investigators say the survival skills of the pilot and passengers "were indispensable" given the limited access to the plane's survival equipment.

After the forced landing, Air Tindi temporarily suspended its Cessna Caravan flights. 

Al Martin, president of Air Tindi, says the airline's policy is now more black and white when it comes to the Caravans and potential icing conditions.

"If there's a potential for icing we just don't fly the aircraft," he said.

He said the airline cancelled more than 100 Caravan flights last fall, and used alternate aircraft.

Another big change the company has made is to have an extra staff member on hand 24/7 in Yellowknife to help pilots cross check weather forecasts and loads.

with files from Kate Kyle

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