Most victims of Nunavut crash have settled lawsuit claims out of court
But First Air’s lawsuit against National Defence still active for now
In the 31 months since flight 6560 crashed on a hillside east of the Resolute Bay runway, First Air has been quietly settling compensation claims from survivors and the families of victims.
First Air’s executive vice-president Chris Ferris said March 27 that the company’s insurance firm has been dealing with claimants ever since the lawsuits were filed in May 2012, nine months after the Aug. 20, 2011 air disaster which killed 12 people — eight passengers and all four crew — and injured three survivors.
“I can say that we’ve been doing all we can to look after the next of kin and the families all the way through this and that continues,” Ferris said.
“The insurance company is dealing with most of this. We’re a step removed from it. I can’t give you a number but there have been a majority settled already.”
However, the lawsuit First Air launched in February 2012 against the Department of National Defence, alleging negligence on behalf of air traffic controllers who were at the Resolute Bay airport at the time as part of a military exercise, is still active for now, Ferris said.
At the time of the crash, Department of National Defence military personnel were based in Resolute Bay for Operation Nanook and had set up a temporary “Class D” air control zone in the area to manage increased air traffic and provide operational training.
An interim report by the Transportation Safety Board a year after the crash pointed out several potential safety issues connected to the military exercise, including a breach in protocol which lead to improper separation between aircraft — First Air’s doomed flight 6560 and a Kenn Borek flight that was coming up behind.
The TSB released its final report March 25 detailing a litany of factors that contributed to the Boeing 737 crash in 2011, including outdated crew training, miscommunication between the two pilots and a compass that was not providing an accurate reading.
The report also details the military’s Operation Nanook exercise, even citing correspondence between the pilots and the military control tower in the moments leading up to the crash.
However, the TSB’s main investigator, Brian MacDonald, told media this week that the military’s presence was not a factor.
Indeed, the issue of Operation Nanook was not even raised during the TSB news conference this week until a reporter posed a question afterward.
Ferris said the TSB’s findings will obviously be taken into account when considering First Air’s legal proceedings against DND. But he stopped short of saying the suit would be dropped.
“It’s a big report,” he said. “They are mentioned in a few different places.”
More than a few places, in fact.
For example, while the TSB did not include DND in its list of 18 factors that directly contributed to the crash, it does mention the military several times in a list of “other findings.” These include:
• neither the military tower nor the military terminal controller at CYRB [Resolute Bay airport] had sufficient valid information available to cause them to issue a position advisory to [flight] 6560;
• the temporary Class D control zone established by the military at CYRB was operating without any capability to provide instrument flight rules separation; and,
• the NOTAMs issued concerning the establishment of the military terminal control area did not succeed in communicating the information needed by the airspace users.
The NOTAMs are “notes to airmen” and refer to advisories issued by the military command.
Military personnel had been hoping to set up radar coverage and air traffic control for the area and had even constructed a temporary tower and control centre, but repeatedly failed to calibrate the radar so it was not “officially” functioning at the time of the accident.
Almost daily, in the week leading up to the accident, NOTAMs were issued delaying the launch of the military terminal control area, even though DND had implemented the Class D control zone.
In other words, the military exercise was under way, and yet not.
“The issuance of so many almost identical NOTAMs in anticipation of a successful flight check, without any assurance that a flight check would be scheduled or could be carried out, may have led to confusion among the crews and the NAV CANADA Edmonton Area Control Centre (ACC) controller as to the status of the airspace,” the TSB report notes.
Of the many sad revelations that emerged from the TSB report, here’s one that has so far been overlooked: even though it had not been flight checked, the military’s radar was actually operating on the day of the crash.
Here’s what the TSB had to say about that:
“Although the radar was not flight-checked, it was operating during the arrival of FAB6560, and radar information was available on both the area surveillance radar (ASR) and precision approach radar (PAR) displays in the terminal trailer.
“The radar could not be used for provision of control services, because it had not been flight-checked; therefore, the terminal controller was not providing control services and was not actively monitoring the radar displays. Consequently, the terminal controller was not aware of FAB6560’s proximity to terrain.”
It’s important to bear in mind, however, that the Resolute Bay airport, like most airports in Nunavut, operates daily without radar surveillance and flights take off and land there regularly using only instrument landing systems.