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Improperly set altimeters may have caused crash

June 18, 2010, Thunder Bay, Ont. - An improperly set instrument may have been at the heart of a fatal air crash in northwestern Ontario last November that claimed three lives.


June 18, 2010
By The Canadian Press

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigation into the Nov. 6, 2009, incident near Cat Lake concludes that the Cessna 310R's altimeters were likely set incorrectly, causing the pilot to fly below a safe altitude.

The six-seater craft crashed into rugged terrain 22 kilometres south of Cat Lake, on final approach to the darkened runway.

Pilot Mike Pateman, a veteran with 25 years flying experience who lived in Dryden, Ont., and passengers Ronald Oombash and Dean Meekis died in the crash.

Oombash was the remote First Nation community's youth programming co-ordinator and Meekis was his assistant.

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The twin-engine Cessna was on a flight to Cat Lake from Sioux Lookout, Ont., about 130 km to the southeast.

The TSB report notes that the topography of Cat Lake and the runway, which lacks lights and other distinguishing features, makes it difficult for a pilot.

"Darkness and the absence of visual cues can adversely influence a pilot's perception of the aircraft's position and movement, and make it more difficult for a pilot to maintain control and to avoid terrain,'' states the report. "In some situations, the limited visual cues in sparsely settled areas may lead pilots to believe that they are at a higher altitude than they actually are.''

In total darkness and with no visual cues, pilots rely solely on barometric pressure altimeters to determine altitude.

The investigation found that one of the Cessna's altimeters was set so high that it would cause a reading 1,000 feet higher than the aircraft's actual altitude.