(Candian OH&S News) — The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is investigating the fatal crash of an Atlantic Charters (AC) Piper PA31 plane, which came down on the morning of Aug. 16. The accident occurred on Grand Manan Island, a New Brunswick island located in the Bay of Fundy near the Maine border.
Confirmed dead in the incident were paramedic William Mallock and pilot Klaus Sonnenberg, the latter of whom was AC’s chief executive officer. Two other passengers in the plane — a co-pilot and a nurse — were seriously injured and sent to a hospital in Saint John.
According to Michael Cunningham, the TSB’s Atlantic regional manager of air investigations, the plane had been performing an air ambulance service just before the accident. After dropping off a patient in Saint John, the plane departed the city roughly between 3:30 and 4:00 a.m.
While returning to Grand Manan, the aircraft missed its first approach and tried a second one, which resulted in a collision with a service road adjacent to the airport runway.
“It was a hard touchdown; they left three pronounced rubber tire marks,” Cunningham said. “They then bounced and began making additional contact with the ground and then finally [came] to an abrupt stop. There was significant damage to the left side of the aircraft, because this was the direction it was moving at the final impact.”
He added that Sonnenberg and Mallock had been sitting on the left side of the plane. The co-pilot suffered several broken ribs in the crash.
Following the incident, the TSB deployed a team of investigators to Saint John to interview the two survivors, and then the team travelled to Grand Manan to begin work at the accident site.
A day after the accident, New Brunswick’s Ministry of Health announced in a press release that it had put a contingency plan in place, stepping up access to emergency services on the island.
“I want to assure residents that their safety is our priority,” N.B. health minister Hugh Flemming was quoted as saying in the release. “My department and Ambulance New Brunswick are doing everything we can to have an aircraft deployed on Grand Manan to maintain air ambulance service on the island until a long-term plan is in place. In the interim, Ambulance New Brunswick has stationed two additional ambulances and crews on the island to assist during this time and the Air Care plane will be posted in Saint John whenever possible.”
Flemming also offered condolences to Sonnenberg’s family on behalf of the government. “Mr. Sonnenberg will be remembered as a man who made significant contributions to healthcare on Grand Manan and who was dedicated to serving the island and its people,” he said.
TSB plans to issue interim report within 90 days
Sonnenberg had been a very well-known and respected figure in the Grand Manan community, Cunningham explained. Due to the local media coverage of Sonnenberg’s death, the TSB plans to issue an interim factual report within the next 90 days to provide some information to the public.
Cunningham said that the Grand Manan tragedy was typical of the accident types on the TSB’s “watchlist,” which includes plane collisions with land and water among other “issues that we feel are most important to Canadians.”
He added that the type of aircraft involved had not been required to have a data recorder or voice recorder on board. “These are the kinds of pieces of equipment that are now more affordable and more available,” he said, “something that some operators are choosing to put into their machines, in order to understand how events like this occur.”
The TSB will issue immediate public recommendations if it identifies any urgent safety deficiencies in its investigation, Cunningham noted.