Air Tindi pilot 'a hero' for landing Cessna safely on ice near Yellowknife

People in the aviation world are commending an Air Tindi pilot for landing a Cessna 208 Caravan safely Thursday on the ice of Great Slave Lake outside Yellowknife.

'This pilot should be congratulated beyond all belief,' says former military pilot

RCMP and rescue officials gather at a muster point on the N.W.T.'s Highway 3 about 40 minutes north of Yellowknife. The pilot and five passengers on board an Air Tindi Cessna Caravan waited about 4 hours before they were reached by helicopter. (Mitch Wiles/CBC)

People in the aviation world are commending an Air Tindi pilot for landing a Cessna 208 Caravan safely Thursday on the ice of Great Slave Lake outside Yellowknife.

A preliminary report to Transport Canada said the plane took off at 6:44 a.m. for Fort Simpson. About 22 minutes later, the pilot requested clearance to return to Yellowknife due to icing. About 13 minutes later, the pilot made a mayday distress call due to severe icing. The plane landed about one minute later.

The six people on board were all airlifted safely to Yellowknife several hours later. 

"This pilot should be congratulated beyond all belief," says Jock Williams, a retired military pilot with 50 years of experience and a former flight safety officer with Transport Canada. 

"He did something that very few pilots do in equivalent circumstances: he took the opportunity to land the aircraft while it was still flyable, and he deserves some sort of medal for so doing. 

"At least on the last part of his action, he's a hero." 

Williams said if he were investigating the incident, he'd ask the pilot when he started experiencing the ice's effect on the airplane and what he did about it.

Flying conditions poor

The Cessna Caravan plane took off with a freezing drizzle warning in effect for the Yellowknife area. 

Williams said pilots aren't supposed to take off in icy conditions, and they have an obligation to check weather.

He said ice weighs planes down, interferes with its lift and makes it difficult to control.

"There is no de-icing equipment in the world installed on an aircraft that will handle moderate to heavy icing or freezing drizzle or freezing rain," he said.

"We simply stay on the ground when we're faced with those circumstances, because no aircraft is certified to handle it or capable of handling it."

Rescue efforts

Cpl. Todd Scaplen, a spokesman for Yellowknife RCMP, said three helicopters waited hours on Thursday for the weather to clear enough for them to take off to help the Cessna's passengers.

The passengers had left the plane and built a fire to keep warm, Air Tindi said. 

Just before noon, the helicopters were able to airlift the five passengers and pilot back to Yellowknife. 

"We had a lot of people mobilizing and ready on standby for what we were going to encounter, because the information wasn't clear initially," Scaplen said.

"Once we started to get our assets out there and find the exact location, everything became much clearer for us, and we are happy with the end result that everybody is OK."

Al Martin, president of Air Tindi, says that three other similar aircraft in its fleet will be grounded until the company has more information about what happened.

"The type of aircraft involved we're not going to be operating until we go back through what may or may not have happened and look at further controls, certainly in the short term, just to make sure we've got this issue covered as far as we can.

"It's a precaution because we don't know all the details of what's happened yet, so it makes sense to be precautionary and just eliminate that in the short term.

Hugs from family members

As the passengers arrived in Yellowknife, family awaited them. 

Noeline Villebrun's cousin Doris Erasmus was one of the six passengers. 

"I guess the main thing is they're all safe," Villebrun said. "And yeah, my first priority is to give her a big hug."

A team of investigators with the Transportation Safety Board is looking into the emergency landing.

The Air Tindi Cessna 208 Caravan is still on the ice of Great Slave Lake. The RCMP is helping to keep the scene secure until the investigators arrive. 

On mobile? Click here to listen to Allison Devereaux's interview with Jock Williams 


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