August 8, 2023 By Jessica Lee, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Rocky Mountain Outlook
An investigation into a tragic plane crash in Kananaskis Country Friday on July 28 that killed six people will examine the aircraft’s recovered flight data recorder, maintenance records, weather and any other clues that could point to a potential cause, according to the national transportation safety authority.
Liam MacDonald, Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) media relations coordinator, said investigators are currently gathering information, collecting data and assessing the situation to classify and launch a full investigation.
“So far, what’s been going on is we’re looking into the initial factors,” said MacDonald. “We’re conducting interviews, gathering info about the aircraft, trying to piece together what the sequence of events was early on.”
The single-engine plane, a Piper PA32, departed from the Springbank Airport just before 9 pm that evening en-route to Salmon Arm, British Columbia for a church function.
The families of those on board lost contact around 9:30 p.m. and the party was reported overdue to RCMP at about 1 a.m. on July 29, prompting a search.
The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre assigned the Royal Canadian Armed Forces (RCAF) CC-130H Hercules from the 435 Transport and Rescue Squadron for the search. The aircraft’s emergency locator transmitter led the team to the crash site on Mount McGillivray, about five kilometres north of Kananaskis Village.
Kananaskis Mountain Rescue, Alpine Helicopters, AHS EMS and an RCAF CH-149 Cormorant from the 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron were also dispatched to assist.
The pilot and all five passengers were located and pronounced dead on scene.
At a press conference July 29, Canmore RCMP Staff Sgt. Ryan Singleton said recovering the bodies of the pilot and passengers was challenging “due to the difficult terrain.”
“However, all six bodies have been recovered,” he said.
Three of the victims have since been identified as Kirk Mealey, Adam Laser and Jacob Brown, of Calgary, according to GoFundMe pages launched by their families and friends.
“Kirk is survived by his wife, Emily, and a baby boy due September 2, 2023,” reads one campaign.
“Adam adored his wife, Jordan, and daughter Amelia (one-year-old). His passing is heartbreaking to many, and undoubtedly leaves a huge hole in Jordan and Amelia’s lives,” reads another.
“Jacob was a beloved husband, father, son, brother, and dear friend to many. He will be deeply missed,” reads another.
All the plane’s occupants have been identified as part of the Calgary church community through Harvest Hills Alliance Church and RockPointe Church.
MacDonald said whatever data is available to TSB, will be used to understand what caused the devastating crash, including interviews with air traffic controllers, any technicians who have worked on the aircraft and others “who’ve had a part to play at some point,” he said.
Pieces of the aircraft are also being collected and sent to the safety board’s engineering lab in Ottawa for analysis.
TSB oversees flight data recorder analysis retrieved from aviation accidents and incidents in Canada. The lab’s software uses three-dimensional graphics for effective data extraction and analysis from flight data recorders, aiding investigators.
“Whatever data we have available, we will use that to try to rebuild what happened,” said MacDonald.
Alberta Aviation Council co-chair Brian Andrus said the cause of the crash can be one or a combination of factors including mechanical, human error, and weather.
“Pilots have training in what’s called human factors and risks, so that’s a component, but of course, the law of physics or the mechanical component of an aircraft is another thing,” he said.
“Those are all the things that any investigation would be concerned with.”
The popular Heart Creek Day Use Area is being used as a staging area for emergency crews while aircraft recovery continues, according to Alberta Parks. The west end of the parking lot is closed, but the main parking lot is open for public use, as well as surrounding trails.
Stacy Demers, supervisor of operations with the Springbank Airport – which is managed by the Calgary Airport Authority, said they are unable to provide further comment on the incident due to the ongoing investigation, but extended their condolences to those affected by the crash.
“We are saddened by the tragedy and our hearts go out to those who lost their lives and to the family and friends who lost loved ones,” he said.
Earlier this month, a float plane crashed into the Spray Lakes reservoir in Kananaskis Country. The pilot and lone occupant, a man in his 60s, was uninjured in the low-level crash on July 5.
In June 1986, 13 people were killed in three related aircraft incidents in K-Country in subsequent searches for the first crash. Three mountain lakes in Spray Valley Provincial Park were named Memorial Lakes in remembrance to those who died.
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