The Transportation Safety Board is investigating after a WestJet flight from Vancouver to Nanaimo, B.C. was evacuated on the tarmac after smoke filled the cabin moments before landing.

Flight 3161 declared an emergency as the Bombardier Q400 turboprop descended towards Nanaimo Airport on Tuesday afternoon. The safety agency said on Wednesday that it's deploying a team of investigators to the airport to “gather information and assess the occurrence.”

Robin Thacker captured video of the crew searching for the source of the smoke and instructing those on board to stay seated.

“It was getting worse and worse, and it was kind of like, we’re not over land, so that’s not good. And I don’t see any floats on this (plane),” he told CTV Vancouver on Tuesday.

Once the plane landed, a crew member can be heard screaming, “Julia, hold people back.” An announcement then came over the plane’s speakers instructing passengers to, “Evacuate. Evacuate. Evacuate.”

Video showed passengers helping one another onto the tarmac through the plane’s door.

Two pilots and two flight attendants led the 56 passengers away from the aircraft.

“It all happened pretty fast,” said passenger Marci Pimlott. “It was a little intense, we had to quickly evacuate.”

Given the amount of smoke in the cabin, Thacker wonders why oxygen masks were not deployed.

“They told us to breathe through our shirts,” he said.

In a statement to, WestJet said the aircraft involved is certified to a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet, and by regulation, not equipped with drop-down oxygen masks.

“Our WestJet Encore cabin crew followed emergency procedures during descent and upon landing, resulting in no injuries to guests or crew,” spokesperson Lauren Stewart wrote in an email.

WestJet said it is investigating the cause of the smoke, and has pulled the aircraft from service. The Calgary-based carrier has apologized for what it called “an unsettling experience.”


With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Penny Daflos