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Weather a factor in fatal plane crash
A provincial coroner has released his report into the death of two men in a small airplane crash at Vernon’s Marshall Field in July.
Allen Hossie concluded that pilot James Leonard Langley, 59, of Kelowna, died of carbon monoxide poisoning and severe thermal injury due to a fire following the plane crash shortly after takeoff from the Vernon Regional Airport at around 1 p.m. on July 7.
Langley’s sole passenger, Karim Makalai, 55, of Port Moody, died of severe thermal injury due to the fire and that carbon monoxide poisoning was a contributing factor.
The pair were on a round-trip sight-seeing flight which started in Kelowna with stops in Vernon and Penticton planned.
The aircraft, a Piper PA-23 twin-engine model, took off at 1 p.m. with a full load of fuel and was heading west towards Okanagan Lake. Witnesses said the take-off was “extremely long.”
During take-off, Langley retracted the landing gear and stayed close to the ground.
“This would result in lower induced drag and would increase the speed and lift of the aircraft,” wrote Hossie.
The plane climbed to about 100 metres then twisted left and, after approximately a 90 degree turn, descended with a steep nose down attitude.
Just before impact, Langley was able to recover from the nose down attitude and roll the aircraft to almost level, but it collided with the ground, bounced hard and skidded to a stop on its belly.
“An explosion occurred within a few seconds, engulfing the aircraft in fire and black smoke,” said Hossie. “Bystanders attempted to extinguish the fire without success, and 911 was called.”
The weather on the day of the accident was 33 degrees Celsius with clear skies. Climb performance of the aircraft would have been further reduced by the hot temperature.
“The short pull-up climb manoeuvre attempted by the pilot at the end of the take-off would not have been performed for operational reasons,” wrote Hossie. “This particular aircraft was not a high-performance aircraft and proved unable to perform the manoeuvre as intended.”
The Piper was manufactured in 1958 and was considered a low-performing aircraft. It was certified as mechanically sound in April and had been maintained in accordance with Canadian Aviation regulations.
Langley held a valid private pilot’s licence for single and multi-engine aircraft. He had flown this particular aircraft for 50 hours.
The Transportation Safety Board examined the wreckage and noted that it had been mostly consumed by the fire; that the damage to both propellers was consistent with rotation under power; and the landing gear was in the up position.
Engine failure did not appear to be a factor in the accident.