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Pilot fatigue cited in crash

Port Radium accident investigation wraps up

Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Dec 14/01) - Weather and pilot fatigue may have contributed to a deadly plane crash at Port Radium last fall, an investigation has concluded.

Evidence at the site of the Oct. 8, 2000, crash indicated it was the result of what air safety investigators term "a controlled flight into terrain."

The Summit Air Charters SC-7 Skyvan was on the way to Yellowknife from Qurluqtuq when it crashed. Longtime northern pilot John Bidwell, 53, his 21-year-old co-pilot, Colin Tilson, and Bidwell's new wife, Mary, 22, were killed. They were the only people on board.

The Transportation Safety Board report on the crash noted Bidwell likely encountered low visibility as he approached an abandoned runway he hoped to use for a planned stop at Port Radium, on the shores of Great Bear Lake.

Approximately six kilometres from the runway, with its flaps at a level flying angle, the plane struck one of the high hills that rise from that area of the lake.

After hitting, the passengers were thrown from the plane as it bounced and tumbled 165 metres up the hill.

Investigators could not examine interior components of the plane because of the precarious position of the wreckage.

"Although the pilot and the aircraft were certified for instrument flight, the pilot apparently continued to fly in accordance with visual flight rules after encountering marginal weather conditions and reduced visibility," the report concluded.

Investigators also noted Bidwell had logged 156 hours of flying time in the previous 30 days. Summit Air had obtained permission to increase the Canadian Aviation Regulations limit of 120 hours to 150 hours.

"The pilot's performance may have been affected by fatigue," the investigators concluded.