Report: Uncleared Iqaluit runway caused crash

Safety board says runway conditions, excess baggage, and failure to de-ice caused 1998 crash of HS 748.



An uncleared runway may have caused First Air flight 802 to crash through the fence at Iqaluit’s airport on Dec. 3, 1998.

“The aircraft accelerated more slowly than normal, probably because of snow on the runway,” says a Transportation Safety Board report released this fall. Slow acceleration would have made it difficult for the plane to lift off the ground.

The seven people on board the plane were unharmed. But the Igloolik-bound Hawker Siddeley 748 was a write-off.

The report also said that 90 kilograms of excess baggage and a failure to de-ice the plane may have contributed to the crash. However, First Air — and the TSB report — called the factors “negligible.”

First Air blamed an earlier report — a runway surface condition indicator — for the incident. “The report the captain received (before takeoff) was incorrect,” said Jim Ballingall, First Air vice-president of marketing.

“Had the captain had the proper RSC report, he would have had time to stop and I wouldn’t be talking to you today.”

RSC standards are being reviewed by a committee of airport operators, airlines and Transportation Canada, Ballingall said.

The Iqaluit airport is responsible for runway maintenance. Snow was cleared from the runway 30 minutes before the attempted takeoff at 3:30 p.m., the report said.

“I think (First Air) is grasping at straws,” said John Graham, Iqaluit airport’s manager. “Somewhere in the report it says snow on the runway could have been a factor that slowed the aircraft, but it certainly wasn’t the cause.”

The Transportation Safety Board report does not assign blame. Its findings simply state what happen during a questionable event.

The plane smashed through the airport fence at 100 knots, or 60 kilometres per hour, at about 3:45 p.m. It disabled a navigation antenna in the crash. The aircraft skidded several hundred metres and stopped nose-down. The plane lost all electrical power, cutting off radio contact with the flight tower.

Insurance covered the cost of replacing the navigation antenna.

First Air made safety changes shortly after the crash. Planes must be de-iced at temperatures above -10 C. Before the accident planes were to be de-iced at temperatures greater than -2 C.

As a result of the accident, the government of Nunavut reinstated airport fire service.

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