Quebec airline president says damage claims are part of the aviation business
The wreckage of a float plane owned by Quebec airline Air Saguenay after it crashed into a Labrador lake. HO / THE CANADIAN PRESS
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- The president of a Quebec airline being sued by the family of a crash victim says such claims come with the business of running an airline.
Jean Tremblay, president of Air Saguenay, said he anticipated damage claims would be filed from families of the seven men who perished when one of his company's float planes crashed into a Labrador lake last July.
He said his airline has negotiated claims over past crashes, and he's prepared for insurance company lawyers to negotiate fairly with people who lost loved ones in the tragedy.
"It's a normal procedure," Tremblay said. "It's aviation life."
The bodies of three people and the wreckage of the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver were never recovered from Mistastin Lake after a weeks-long search led by the RCMP. Without the plane or any witnesses, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said it could not conduct a full investigation to determine the cause of the crash.
Tremblay said it's disappointing for everyone involved that the full story will likely never be known. He said his heart goes out to families as they seek closure.
"It's very sad for everybody," he said. "All the families are in their right to claim something for this loss."
A statement of claim filed last week in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court by the family of one man alleges negligence and breach of contractual duties to the victim.
Clifford Randell, 50, had been working as a fishing guide on the trip to Mistastin Lake on July 15, along with another guide, four American tourists and Air Saguenay's pilot, Gilles Morin.
The lawsuit alleges that substandard skill by the pilot was the most likely cause of the crash.
It claims improperly maintained equipment may have also contributed and alleges the airline did not adapt to safety standards because none of the deceased people were recovered wearing personal flotation devices. The statement refers to amendments made to the Canadian Aviation Regulations last spring that will take effect in September 2020, requiring floatplane occupants to wear personal flotation devices when over water.
The allegations have not been tested in court.
Tremblay disputed the negligence allegations, saying his airline followed regulations with an experienced pilot and a recently inspected aircraft.
"I'm kind of surprised for this particular case, because we are following the rules," he said. "But it's normal that the family claims the loss ... against Air Saguenay."
The Transportation Safety Board's report on the incident determined the pilot was qualified for the flight and had over 16,000 hours of experience on DHC-2 aircraft. It also noted "no anomalies" upon reviewing the floatplane's maintenance records.
Tremblay expressed hope that the claim can be resolved in the best possible way given the tragic circumstances, saying "everything will be treated honourably."
"For me it's not a fight, it's an insurance negotiation with the family," Tremblay said. "I'm still offering my sympathies to all of the families in that crash and hopefully we will resolve this (in) the best way for everybody."
The search for the missing plane officially concluded on Aug. 8. RCMP officials have said the extreme depths of the remote lake, located about 100 kilometres southwest of Nain, hindered search efforts.
Debris from the plane, including its tail, had been spotted in the water by aircraft on July 16, but the RCMP believe the debris drifted before divers arrived.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2019.