Remarkable there were no fatalities in Fond-du-Lac crash, says aviation expert

A series of factors played out favourably for the passengers of a plane which crashed near Fond-du-Lac earlier this month, says a former fighter pilot and aviation expert.

Jock Williams identifies eight factors that must go just right to survive

All 25 people on board the ATR-42 survived when it crashed shortly after takeoff near Fond-du-Lac, Sask., on Dec. 13. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

The Dec. 13 plane crash near Fond-du-Lac, Sask., in which everyone on board survived is remarkable, says a retired fighter pilot.

Jock Williams, a retired Royal Canadian Air Force pilot and aviation expert, says many factors must go right for a plane crash to end with as little damage as possible.

In addition to being a former fighter pilot, Williams also crashed his friend's plane into a forest back in September, escaping with minor injuries.

"The [Fond-du-Lac] plane was probably ... still in the, let's say, 120- to 150-mile-an-hour range," Williams told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition from Toronto.

"If that [speed] were doubled, the chances of fatality would be quadrupled."

Jock Williams suspects the pilots in the Fond-du-Lac plane crash flew "into" the crash and kept control of the aircraft throughout the whole ordeal. (Submitted)

Plane plowed through trees

The West Wind Aviation ATR-42 crashed shortly after takeoff from Fond-du-Lac. All 22 passengers and three crew members survived the crash, though there were serious injuries.

There are eight factors that must go just right for no fatalities to occur, according to Williams: speed, terrain, stop distance, descent speed and angle, obstacles, rescue equipment and time, fire and control.

The plane plowed through about 800 feet of trees before coming to a stop. 

Dozens of locals responded to the crash in its immediate aftermath, including Canadian rangers. Though the plane had been shredded by the crash and there was jet fuel leaking all over, there was no fire. 

The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder from the aircraft involved in a crash in Fond-du-Lac, Sask. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

Plane likely flew 'into' the crash

"If they'd run into a cliff and decelerated to zero knots in a matter of six inches, believe me, everybody on that plane would be deceased," Williams said.

Williams said it's likely the plane crew flew "into" the crash and kept control throughout the ordeal. Williams spoke of his own crash — which was slower — into trees.

Williams said there was an engine failure on takeoff. It didn't fail entirely, but stopped generating enough thrust to get lift off or accelerate. He said the forest began at the end of the runway.

Williams stayed as level as he could a few feet off the ground and it worked.

"I was taught early on to fly the plane as much into the crash as you can. ... I'll tell you it's hard to make yourself try to fly into a forest," Williams said.

"The temptation is to try to climb — and, of course, the higher you go, the worse the plane is going to fall down when it finally stops."

With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition