TORONTO—Survivors of one of Canada’s most infamous air disasters still find it difficult to talk about the experience two decades after the plane they were on crashed because of iced-up wings.
Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of the crash of Air Ontario flight 1363 in Dryden that killed 24 people and changed how the industry views wing contamination.
Of the half-dozen survivors contacted by The Canadian Press, former flight attendant Sonia Hartwick was the only person to respond.
Hartwick, the lone crew member to come away from the crash, said in an e-mail that she’s grateful and feels fortunate to have survived.
“Life has been serene,” Hartwick said.
“My husband, Mark, has been my pillar of strength and my sons my inspiration to embrace life and move forward.”
The disaster occurred just after the Dutch-built Fokker F-28 took off March 10, 1989 from the snow-whipped airport in Dryden, where it had made a scheduled stop en route from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg.
The plane struggled to climb more than about four storeys high and smashed into a dense area of pine trees about a kilometre west of the runway.
“It was doomed from the start,” said Virgil Moshansky, a retired Alberta judge who led a probe into the crash—still regarded as the most extensive accident investigation in Canadian history.
Though there were “hundreds of different aspects” that contributed, the main problem was ice that lined the wings, he said.
“There was very little recognition up until Dryden of the dangers of wing contamination,” Moshansky said from his home in Calgary.
Before the inquiry, boiling water often was used to de-ice planes in freezing conditions, Moshansky said.
The hot water would clear the wings but then glaze over into a thin layer of invisible ice—a dangerous and potentially deadly combination because it changes the shape of the wing and hampers their ability to lift the plane.
Moshansky said before the Dryden crash, Transport Canada literature was all but silent about the effects of wing icing and pilots had little training in the area.
His 2,000-page report prompted numerous changes in air travel policies.
“The main thing is it called attention to the danger of ice on the wings,” said Raymond Canon, an aviation analyst at the University of Western Ontario.
De-icing was made mandatory and airlines were required to use a chemical spray.
Airports, especially larger ones, also had to locate a de-icing bay close to the runway because planes often had long waits to take off while de-icing fluid would wear off in minutes.
In Dryden, a bronze plaque will be re-dedicated to those killed in the crash tomorrow morning.