An investigation into a plane crash at the Brantford municipal airport last November that took the lives of a Brampton couple concluded there were multiple problems that likely contributed to the accident.
Ronald Chamberlain, 76, and his wife Mildred, 81, took off from Burlington just before 12:30 a.m. and, minutes later, crashed into a runway at the Brantford Airport on Nov. 13 in a Piper single-engine plane
According to a report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, Chamberlain, who was in the front seat of the plane, had his pilot’s licence revoked due to an invalid medical certificate.
“His licence wasn’t valid, there was no flight plan on file and no recorded information we could find that the aircraft had made any transmissions,” said Ken Webster, senior regional investigator.
Webster said it’s customary for all radio transmissions to be recorded but in smaller airports that doesn’t always happen.
“You’re supposed to broadcast your intentions before departure and landing but there are different types of airports with different rules.”
The investigation also found the flight from Burlington was made in poor weather conditions and blood-work revealed the pilot had a blood-alcohol reading that would have been exacerbated by high altitudes.
The post-mortem showed Chamberlain had a level of 66 milligram of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, which is legal in Ontario for driving a car.
However, Webster noted it wasn’t possible to know the pilot’s blood-alcohol concentration at the time of the accident and the report said even small amounts of alcohol can affect piloting skills. Flying at 6,000 feet above sea level doubles the effect of one alcoholic drink.
When the plane crashed, the Canadian Aviation Regulations said no one can fly within eight hours of consuming alcohol. The following month, in response to a 2015 accident, those rules changed to no alcoholic consumption for 12 hours before flying.
“To ensure safety, pilots must fly within their limits, whether these limits are based on regulations, qualifications, or physiology, or are restricted by the prevailing weather conditions,” said the report.
Chamberlain got his licence for piloting single-engine airplanes in 1989 but, after his 2017 medical exam, Transport Canada asked for further medical information from him. He didn’t respond to requests in February and March 2018.
On May 22 last year, Chamberlain was told his medical certificate – and hence his pilot’s licence – was suspended.
After that, there were no flights recorded in the plane’s journey log but investigators found flights noted on pieces of paper in the pilot’s flight bag.
Because the information was spotty, investigators couldn’t determine how many flights were made and whether Chamberlain met the “recency” requirements for night flying.
“There’s a certain amount of flying you have to do in order to be allowed to carry passengers at night and we found a lack of information,” said Webster.
“What we do know is, at some point, the aircraft information stopped being recorded in the log books.”
The report also noted that the flight took place in poor weather that called for in-flight icing for which the aircraft wasn’t equipped.
Investigators found the cockpit was still largely intact after the accident but the damage to the nose of the aircraft indicated the speed at which it hit the ground meant the crash likely couldn’t be survived.
Chamberlain and his wife were found with their seat belts on – although the pilot’s shoulder harness wasn’t connected to the lap belt.
The crash was only discovered when airport employees arrived in the morning.
An Emergency Locator Transmitter system, which should have activated, was found the in armed position but it failed to work. The investigation showed the battery pack was due to be replaced 12 days before the crash but there was still plenty of power.
Further testing of the ELT found “fretting” inside a switch cylinder that caused it not to work – a problem found in at least three other accidents the safety board has investigated.
The report said even if the ELT had worked, it wouldn’t have helped the Chamberlains due to the severity of their injuries.
Webster said the safety board won’t speculate on why the Chamberlains were heading to Brantford or whether the pilot was deliberately flouting aviation rules.
“All the facts are in the report,” Webster said.
“We do have a safety message to the public: make sure you have a valid pilot’s licence and don’t operate in poor weather conditions.”