Floatplanes tangle in harbour ‘fender-bender’

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Ganges Harbour was the scene of an on-the-water rear-ending on Thursday when a Seair plane plowed into the back of a Harbour Air plane parked at the same dock. 

The accident resulted in significant damage to both aircraft but caused no human injuries, said Meredith Moll, Harbour Air Group’s vice president of sales and marketing.

“We are working cooperatively to investigate and prevent any future incidents,” Moll said.

Jim Heath, harbour manager for the Harbour Authority of Salt Spring Island (HASSI), said he was informed of the accident after the fact and passed on the information to Transport Canada. The floatplane dock was also unaffected and remains in use.

“No one was hurt — just pride,” Heath said.

The independent Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) said it had received a report of the incident and classified the occurrence as a Class-5 investigation, meaning there is little likelihood of identifying new safety lessons that will advance transportation safety. The Class-5 investigation consists of data gathering only, with no report produced following the investigation. 

According to the information collected by TSB so far, the Seair Seaplanes Ltd. Cessna 208 was started at the dock at 12:55 p.m. for a flight to Vancouver International Airport (VIA). (The TSB said there were an “unknown number” of passengers on board, but no flight was scheduled from Ganges Harbour to VIA at that time.) When the engine was started, the aircraft propelled itself forward, colliding with the back end of a parked Harbour Air Seaplanes single-engine De Havilland Otter that had no passengers onboard. 

The TSB said the Cessna’s propeller struck the Otter’s “flight control surfaces,” removing them from the aircraft. Both aircraft were disabled and will be towed or barged back to Vancouver for repairs, TSB said.

TSB’s mandate is to conduct investigations into marine, pipeline, rail and aviation occurrences, and to communicate risks in the transportation system. The board does not assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability, 

The accident highlights an ongoing concern for at least one person familiar with the location. Bart Terwiel has done transportation safety consulting work for Transport Canada and was HASSI’s manager from 2003 to 2007. He said it’s not surprising the accident occurred because the dock in question was designed for use with Beaver aircraft, which are smaller than the two planes involved in Thursday’s incident. 

“You can put one of those [large] planes on the dock at one time, but not two,” he said.

Terwiel feels that with the congestion and increased traffic in Ganges Harbour in recent years, a risk assessment and management review for the area needs to be done by an independent body.

“I’m just glad no one got hurt,” Terwiel said. “And it’s actually a miracle because there were bits of flying metal everywhere and there were people there. We were very lucky nobody got hurt.” 

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