Susan Schrempf had received dozens of calls from Donna Olsen about customer service issues on the ferry and winter flight services to Pelee Island over the years.
But the president and CEO of Owen Sound Transportation Company testified Thursday the former ticket agent never mentioned pilot Wayne Price had expressed concerns about being pressured to fly in bad weather.
The first defence witness in the civil trial into the deadly crash of Georgian Express Ltd. Flight 126 that killed 10 people on Jan. 17, 2004, Schrempf said she didn’t hear about Price’s concerns until more than a decade after the disaster.
During cross-examination by Jerry O’Brien, the lawyer for the plaintiff, Schrempf said she wasn’t aware of Olsen’s telephone conversations with Price on the day of the crash. Earlier in the trial, Olsen testified that Price had told her during these calls that Georgian Express was urging him to fly in the poor weather conditions.
“I didn’t know about the conversation until I learned about it in discovery in 2015 (for this litigation),” Schrempf said.
She testified Olsen – asked at the time to prepare a statement for the company providing details about the lead-up to the crash – mentioned “nothing … about Wayne being pressured to fly.”
Schrempf described another report by Olsen about a cancelled flight from Windsor to Peleee Island by Price, written two weeks before the crash, as following procedure. On that day – Jan. 4, 2004 – Price flew over Pelee Island twice before deciding not to land because of the weather conditions.
Schrempf noted it was not unusual for a pilot to perform a fly-over and determine it was not safe to land.
Londoner Paul Brisco, the brother of one of Robert Brisco, one of the 10 victims, is suing for aggravated and punitive damages on behalf himself and his brother’s estate, which he administers.
The defendants, including Georgian Express Ltd., the air carrier, and Owen Sound Transportation Company Ltd., which contracted the charter to provide winter service for Pelee Island, have already admitted liability. The jury will determine what amount of compensation should be awarded for damages.
Robert Brisco, 46, of Chatham, and friends were returning from a hunting trip when Georgian Express Flight 126 crashed through the Lake Erie ice just moments after taking off from the Pelee Island Airport. The others who died included brothers Ted Reeve, 53, and Tom Reeve, 49, of Chatham; Dr. Jim Allen, 51, of Mitchell’s Bay; Ronald Spencler, 53, and Walter Sadowski, 48, both of Windsor; and Fred Freitas, 38, and Larry Janik, 48, of Kingsville.
Price of Richmond Hill, whose estate is also named in the civil suit, died in the crash along with his fiancée Jamie Levine of Los Angeles.
While being questioned by Katherine Ayre, a lawyer for the defendants, Schrempf spoke about receiving a call on her cellphone around 5:15 a.m. or 5:20 p.m. about the crash.
She remembered talking to Olsen, telling her to “lock down” the office.
Schrempf said the company had a responsibility to protect the integrity of any documents or other information that would be required for the ensuing crash investigation.
That investigation by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada 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 plane, 576 kilograms over the maximum allowable takeoff weight, took off at 4:40 p.m. for the short flight to Windsor Airport. It crashed into the ice of Lake Erie a few minutes later.
The Owen Sound Transportation Company has been providing ferry service for Pelee Island since 1992. The company hires an operator to provide air service during the winter months.
The trial continues Friday.