VANCOUVER, B.C. - One of the survivors of a float plane crash on Vancouver Island two years ago that killed five of the seven people on board says the pilot was so close to becoming a hero before the aircraft went down in dense forest.
The Transportation Safety Board released a report Wednesday into the August 2008 Pacific Coastal crash, concluding that the Grumman Goose amphibian aircraft stalled, and while the pilot managed to recover, it was too late to avoid slamming into dense forest on a cloud-covered ridge.
Bob Pomponio, one of the two people to survive the crash, credited the pilot for keeping the aircraft from flying straight into the mountainside.
"It was a manoeuvre that nearly worked," he told The Canadian Press. "You're so close to being a hero or, you know, you win or you fail."
The plane stalled, and Pomponio said the pilot couldn't get enough air speed.
"If we had more altitude, maybe 100 feet or so, who knows what might have happened."
The crash ripped a hole in the Grumman Goose's fuselage, which helped Pomponio and his co-worker, Lorne Clowers, escape.
Pomponio calmly described swatting out the fire burning up his friend's back and dragging the man out of the broken aircraft.
The plane was ferrying forestry workers between Port Hardy and Chamiss Bay on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Because of his injuries, Pomponio hasn't yet gone back to work.
While the TSB report doesn't provide a definitive cause of the crash, it recommends the federal government change regulations to encourage operators to put satellite tracking systems in their planes.
It's a key recommendation for Pomponio, because he and Clowers waited almost nine hours for help to arrive when the emergency locator on the Goose burned in the fire.
The only reason they were found at all was because Pomponio used his cellphone to send a text message to a co-worker, saying that he could hear search planes nearby.
"I'm still so grateful that there were guys on the other end of the telephone that I got a hold of," Pomponio said.
"Everybody's learned so much, but we've paid a great price."
Pacific Coastal president Quentin Smith said Pomponio's help probably saved them, because the bush was thick and the trees in the area were 40 metres tall.
"Without some kind of system, knowing that the ELT did burn up on the crash, it would have been virtually impossible to find them," said Smith.
Since the crash, Pacific Coastal has put in satellite tracking devices on its float planes that broadcast the plane's location every two minutes.
Even if a crash involves fire or water, Smith said they'll still know where the plane was two minutes earlier, which would provide a good estimate of the location.
The company also launched its own investigation into what happened.
"It was pretty clear right from the beginning that there was never going to be a clear cut and dry answer of what went wrong and why," Smith said.
The company revised its training and now operates at higher standards than necessary for float planes.
Four months after the crash, another Pacific Coastal plane crashed onto a steep hillside near the B.C. Sunshine Coast.
Seven people were killed and one man survived but was severely burned.
Smith said the causes of that crash are completely different, but he wouldn't say more until the TSB released its report on the crash.