Pilot's decisions led to fatal plane crash near Yukon's Mayo Lake, investigation finds

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) says a young pilot's decision to fly in a canyon in low-visibility conditions contributed to a fatal plane crash near Mayo, Yukon, last summer. The pilot and his lone passenger were killed.

Lawsuit alleges airline, pilot negligence in crash that left 2 dead last August

Pilot Shawn Thomas Kitchen, 24, and passenger Julia Lane, 33, died in a plane crash near Mayo Lake, Yukon, last August. Investigators found that Kitchen's decisions to fly in a canyon in low-visibility conditions contributed to the crash. (Facebook)

The Transportation Safety Board (TSB) says a young pilot's decisions to fly in a canyon in low-visibility conditions helped lead to a fatal plane crash near Mayo, Yukon, last summer.

Two people were killed in the August crash — pilot Shawn Kitchen, 24, and his passenger, Julia Lane, a 33-year-old geologist who had been working at an exploration camp in the area. They were the only people on board the plane.

The Alkan Air Cessna 208B Grand Caravan had taken off from the Rackla gold project air strip and was headed for Mayo when the crash happened.

According to the TSB's investigation report, released Wednesday, Kitchen had been flying by visual flight rules (VFR) when he entered an area of low visibility and low cloud ceilings. The report says Kitchen departed from his intended flight route and entered a "box canyon," with one-way access and steep walls.

That's where the aircraft hit rising terrain and was destroyed, the report says.

The plane was en route from mining exploration camp Rackla to the community of Mayo — a distance of about 150 kilometres — when it went down. Mayo is located about 320 kilometres north of Whitehorse. (CBC)

Investigators said Kitchen's decision to continue a low-altitude flight into mountainous terrain with low visibility was guided by several factors.

"The pilot had recently completed a flight along the same route, in similar weather conditions. The pilot's decision-making would have been affected by his familiarity with the route and, consequently, he likely did not consider an alternate route to avoid the poor weather conditions," the report says. 

The report says the elevation of the canyon floor rose abruptly where the crash happened, and Kitchen would not have detected it in time to avoid it because of his speed of travel and the low visibility.

"Additionally, the aircraft's terrain awareness and warning system aural alerts were ineffective in warning the pilot of the rising terrain because he had already heard multiple similar alerts in the preceding minutes of flight, or had silenced these alerts," the report says.

The TSB says that after the crash Alkan Air made changes to its operations, including requiring a second flight crew member for Cessna 208B Grand Caravan captains with fewer than 2,000 hours. A pilot must also fly for one season as a second crew member on a Caravan before becoming a captain.

A Cessna Grand Caravan owned by Alkan Air. The TSB says that after the crash last August, Alkan Air made changes to its Caravan operations. (Alkan Air)

Alkan Air has also modified its emergency response plan, the TSB says.

Victim's husband sues airline for negligence

Earlier this month, Lane's husband, Ryan Gandy, filed a claim in Yukon Supreme Court accusing Alkan Air and Kitchen of negligence, and seeking damages associated with Lane's death.

The statement of claim, filed July 10, accuses of Alkan of negligence in operating the aircraft. It says the company failed to adequately train Kitchen for flying in mountainous terrain and in low visibility. It also accuses the company of, among other things, negligent flight planning, and not installing a terrain avoidance warning system.

The claim also blames Kitchen for flying into hazardous terrain without properly assessing or monitoring the risks.

None of the statements in Gandy's claim have been proven in court.

According to Alkan Air's website, Kitchen had been with the company since 2015. He was from Whitehorse.

"He was an incredible individual who took every opportunity to make everyone feel welcome," reads a tribute on the website.

In a statement on Wednesday, Alkan Air president Wendy Tayler referred to the legal action filed against the airline, and said "it is not appropriate for the company to comment on the accident, the TSB report or any related issues."

"We appreciate the effort of the Transportation Safety Board in preparing this report as we continually work with the agency as a company and as an industry to ensure the health and safety of our employees and passengers," the statement reads.

Lane, a graduate of the University of British Columbia and a registered professional geologist in B.C., was appointed vice-president of exploration for ATAC Resources Ltd. in 2015, and was a partner with Archer, Cathro & Associates since 2012. She had been working in the Rackla area on an ATAC gold project when the crash happened.