The wheels-down water landing of a Cessna 185E on amphibious floats on Upper Raft Lake in Ontario last August resulted in the death by drowning of the pilot and minor injuries to six passengers, all of whom were members of the pilot’s family. The aircraft was equipped with only four seats. A dog on board the aircraft also drowned.
The deceased pilot, holder of a commercial pilot licence with a float endorsement, and who also held an aircraft maintenance engineer licence, had accumulated a total of 3,100 flight hours, 300 of which were on type and 150 on amphibious aircraft.
The flight had taken off from the asphalt runway at Orillia Rama airport (CNJ4) 34 minutes prior to landing at Upper Raft Lake at 12:59 on August 4. The aircraft flipped on landing and floated in the water inverted. The passengers, one adult and five children, were able to escape from the aircraft via the right-side door and assembled atop the inverted floats. They then paddled the airplane toward the shore where they alighted and tied the aircraft to a rock.
Although the ELT activated, no signal was received. Cellphones belonging to survivors were inside the aircraft. It was not until 09:00 the following morning that another family member informed another seaplane operator at CNJ4 that the aircraft had not yet returned. That operator dispatched an aircraft to Upper Raft Lake and the accident aircraft was spotted. The pilot landed and assisted the survivors.
The London FIR and Trenton’s JRCC were then notified and SAR aircraft transported the survivors to hospital.
The accident aircraft was airlifted out of the water four days later. Transportation Safety Board (TSB) investigators could find no evidence of equipment malfunction, mentioning that impact forces and water damage made decisive determination of the cause of the accident impossible.
Both front seat occupants wore lap belts but not the available shoulder belts. The front right seat occupant was carrying a child on his lap (the child was not a toddler). The two rear seats were occupied by three children, one in one seat who was using the lap belt and two in the other, none of whom used the available lap belt. One child rode in the baggage area along with the dog.
In addressing the finding that neither of the front seat occupants used the available shoulder belt, which could have been a factor in the pilot’s drowning, the TSB noted that historical data has shown that the use of shoulder belts greatly reduces the severity of injuries in aircraft accidents.
They also noted that, despite Aviation Safety Letter and Advisory Circulars issued by Transport Canada in attempts to clarify the definition of safety belts, ambiguity remains. The TSB points out that subsection 101.01(1) of the CARs defines a safety belt as “a personal restraint system consisting of either [emphasis added] a lap strap or a lap strap combined with a shoulder harness.”
In response to this investigation, the TSB has issued Recommendation A19-01:
[that] the Department of Transport amend the Canadian Aviation Regulations to remove any ambiguity associated with the definition of “safety belt.”
The full TSB investigation report is appended below.
Photo credit: A friend of the pilot