Air Tindi incident shows gaps in weather information North of 60
No weather radar available north of Edmonton
The emergency landing of an Air Tindi flight last week on Great Slave Lake highlights gaps in the weather information available for pilots in the North, say aviators.
One of the challenges of flying in the three territories is that there is no radar north of Edmonton to track current weather conditions.
In the south, there's consistent and detailed satellite coverage but in the North, the images only show cloud cover.
"Down south you'll usually get radar information so you'll see if there's a band of rain or snow or in this case freezing rain in your way, so you'll know what you're up against or what's actually happening," says Christy Climenhaga, meteorologist for CBC North and a private pilot.
NAV Canada posts weather patterns for regions in the North. Pilots can analyze those forecasts, but they don't have up-to-the-minute information, especially about the areas between communities.
While some small communities have people monitoring weather during the day, there's no one to report current sky conditions after they go home at night.
"You're really in the dark as a pilot, flying lots of the time," says Climenhaga. "We don't have radar in the North, the satellite imagery is patchy and not very clear to look at either. Although you get reports from different communities, in between you're pretty much in the dark. You're relying on pilot forecasts from people who've already flown the route."
But Willard Hagen, a long-time bush pilot in the N.W.T., says that even without radar, pilots have more than enough information to analyze weather conditions before taking off. He says satellite imagery and forecasted weather patterns provide the necessary information.
“It's the pilots, the captain who has the responsibility to make sure that when he takes off he has checked all his weather forecasts. And they're there for him to check. If he hasn't done that, he shouldn't take off.”
Hagen says people should be able to analyze weather fronts online, and should phone communities or airports if they're unclear about weather conditions.
Air Tindi has said that in last week's emergency landing, the pilot took off in clear conditions.
Lucky to have survived
A team with the Transportation Safety Board is still in Yellowknife investigating the incident. They'll be looking at weather conditions as well as interviewing everyone on board and examining the aircraft.
Some of the passengers are now driving rather than flying back to the Dehcho, and Roy Klondike says he's still shaken up.
"Everybody was just shocked, everybody scared," he said. "What we were thinking is we were just so lucky we survived."
A team from Discovery Air moved recovery equipment out onto the ice near the landing site this weekend. Air Tindi's president says they have to clean up some fuel and debris. They'll be working to sling the plane back to Yellowknife by helicopter this week.