Authorities investigating the crash of First Air flight 6560 say it’s too soon to determine what exactly caused the Boeing 737-200C to crash into a hill near the Resolute Bay airport Aug. 20.
“There could be a lot of things,” said Mark Clitsome, director of air investigations for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, during a news conference in Ottawa Aug. 22.
“We are in the business of determining what happened and why, and if we find out anything that can prevent this from happening again, we’ll get that out.”
Clitsome said investigators will comb through the records of the flight data and cockpit voice recorders and interview the flight’s three survivors. He said it could take up to 60 days to produce a preliminary report and a year or more to issue a final version.
The plane’s manufacturer, Boeing, is helping in the investigation along with the engine manufacturer, Pratt & Whitney, Clitsome said.
The 737-200C, which is built to carry both passengers and cargo, was more than 35 years old, according to Planeregister.com, an online database of commercial aircraft.
It made its first flight in May of 1975 for Wien Air of Alaska.
It was sold to AirCal of California in 1985, and owned briefly by American Airlines before entering service for NWT Air in 1988 under its Canadian registration number C-GNWN. First Air took over ownership in June of 1998.
But Geoff Falconar, an Edmonton-based aviation safety expert, said it would be wrong to attribute the crash simply to the plane’s age.
“The first thing that an investigator’s trained is you’re not looking for one thing,” he said. “It’s never [just] one thing.”
Falconar said First Air has a solid track record for maintenance and that it’s not unusual to see old airplanes in service in the North.
“In a way they’re perpetually new. They’re always rebuilding any part of the plane that needs to be rebuilt,” he said.
The same day as the Resolute Bay crash, another First Air 737-200 lost power in one engine as it took off from Rankin Inlet on its way to Winnipeg.
A Transport Canada occurrence report said the plane’s crew called for emergency vehicles at the Rankin Inlet airport before landing safely. There was no damage or injuries reported.
In 2004, C-GNWN missed the runway while landing at Edmonton International Airport during a flight from the mothballed Lupin gold mine in Nunavut. No one was hurt in that incident, and only damage to some runway equipment was reported.
The TSB found fog, poor airport lighting and pilot exhaustion contributed to that accident.
Another First Air 737-200C was written off after a hard landing in Yellowknife in 2001. None of the 104 people on board that flight were killed.
First Air has three other 737-200Cs in service, but has said it will continue to run its regular schedule.
The northern airlines equip their planes with all the gear needed to fly in the North, including gravel shields on the belly and special radar. Watch for another posting about the Gravel Kit.
Chris Windeye with files from Postmedia News.
Gravity always wins!