Company had no obligation to notify Transport Canada about air service

Georgian was running a charter service to and from Pelee Island at time of fatal crash

Unidentified debris from a plane sits above the ice, left, as the US Coast Guard Cutter Neah Bay posts itself Sunday outside of the site where a charter flight from Pelee Island to Windsor Airport crash-landed Saturday evening about a half-a-mile off the island into Lake Erie, killing 10 people. (Tim Fraser/Windsor Star)

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Transport Canada only learned Georgian Express Ltd. was providing a regular passenger charter to Pelee Island after a deadly 2004 crash, but the air service provider was not violating any aviation regulations.

A key factor was the fee per seat for passengers was not charged by Georgian Express, but rather the Owen Sound Transportation Company, which also provides the boat ferry service to the island, David Kyro, an aviation inspector for Transport Canada, testified Tuesday in a Chatham courtroom.

He was called as an expert witness Tuesday by the defendants, which include Georgian Express and the Owen Sound Transportation Company, during a civil trial into the crash of Georgian Flight 126, which plummeted through the Lake Erie ice shortly after takeoff on Jan. 17, 2004.

All 10 people on board, including eight hunters from the region, were killed in one of the worst air disasters in Southwestern Ontario history.

He said the Owen Sound Transportation Company, which charged passengers per seat, was paying Georgian Express for the aircraft to provide winter flight service to and from the Pelee Island Airport when the ferry was unable to run.

Since the federal agency didn’t oversee the wen Sound Transportation Company, Kyro testified “Georgian didn’t have to notify Transport Canada and could call this a charter service.”

Emily Wunder, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, asked what kind of regulatory oversight would have been necessary if Georgian Express had directly provided the service to and from Pelee Island.

Kyro explained the process would have first Georgian being certified by Transport Canada, which required numerous forms about aircraft and the airport, along with a statement of intent to notify the agency of the details in providing the service.

One issue in this crash was the lack of a ladder for Capt. Wayne Price, the pilot of the doomed flight, to inspect the wings of the plane for ice. Other witnesses previous testified that ice visible on the plane just before it took off. There was also no de-icing equipment available at the small Pelee Island Airport.

Kyro testified a ladder or de-icing machine would not necessarily have been required at the airport, saying he would have asked the company how it planned to deal with situations that arose during the winter.

Katherine Ayre, another lawyer for the defendants, asked if the policy of “do not go in if you can’t get out” would have been satisfactory.

“Yes, that’s fine,” Kyro said.

The jury heard that Kyro was the principal operations inspector appointed by Transport Canada to work with Georgian Express and several air service providers in northern Ontario at the time of the crash.

Noting he dealt with other companies that had “questionable” safety practices, Kyro recalled having a good relationship with Georgian Express management. Although he testified without bringing any notes, Kyro didn’t remember any significant safety issues arising from his inspections of Georgian Express.

The civil suit is being brought by Londoner Paul Brisco, 71, the brother of Robert Brisco, 46, of Chatham, one of the eight hunters killed when the Cessna Caravan crashed.

The crash also killed Ted Reeve, 53, and Tom Reeve, 49, both of Chatham; Dr. Jim Allen, 51, of Mitchell’s Bay; Windsor residents Ronald Spencler, 53, and Walter Sadowski, 48; and Kingsville residents Fred Freitas, 38, and Larry Janik, 48.

Price, whose estate is also named in the civil suit, died along with his fiancée Jamie Levine of Los Angeles.

Earlier in the day, former Georgian Express operations manager Lori Shaw was asked during cross-examination by Wunder why the company didn’t conduct any independent investigation into the factors that led to the fatal plane crash.

“We recreated what happened that day,” Shaw said.

She noted that exercise was based on the information available about the Cessna Caravan, including fuel, passenger loads and freight.

“What was done with the results of this (information)?” Wunder asked.

Shaw said the information was summarized.

“Did Georgian pressure Wayne Price to fly?” Wunder asked Shaw.

“No, we did not,” Shaw replied.

Georgian Express Ltd. and Owen Sound Transportation Company Ltd., which contracted the charter to provide winter service for Pelee Island, have already admitted liability. However, the jury will determine what amount of compensation should be awarded for damages.

That Transportation Safety Board investigation determined Price was under stress and sleep-deprived when he decided to take off in a plane that was overloaded with a number of husky men, hunting dogs and luggage and “contaminated” with ice.

The trial continues Wednesday.

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