National Newswatch

GANDER, N.L. — Before the small Beechcraft plane crash-landed in eastern Newfoundland, passenger Kris Ralph wondered whether it should have been flying at all.

The 27-year-old Ralph has flown the route between his job in Labrador and the Gander, N.L., airport frequently over the past three years.

On Wednesday, even before it departed from Goose Bay with 16 aboard, he said he was questioning whether the Air Canada Express flight should attempt the trip as forecasts called for an April blizzard.

When the plane descended in Gander, which was being buffeted by strong winds and snowfall of about 40 centimetres, he doubted the pilot would seek to land on the first attempt.

"It was pretty crazy in that wind ... The plane was all over the place trying to get down," he said in a telephone interview.

Ralph said that on previous landings in Gander in rough weather, the plane would often descend several times before actually attempting to set down. He was stunned that didn't happen Wednesday, he said.

"This was first attempt going right to the runway. I wasn't prepared for it," said Ralph, a heavy equipment supervisor.

"It was mostly just shock, knowing we shouldn't have been flying in that weather and then to actually crash land."

Ralph said the plane hit the tarmac hard, nosedived and spun, pushing him into the side of the aircraft. He saw pieces of a prop break off and strike a window just three seats ahead of him.

He said the plane came to an abrupt stop, and he could smell melted fibreglas from the skid along the runway.

The passengers spent almost 20 minutes on the runway waiting for vehicles to respond, he said.

"The wind was pretty incredible there," he said. "After 20 minutes two gentlemen showed up in separate pickups ... We expected some sort of emergency response to accommodate the 16 of us including the pilots on the runway."

A spokesman for Air Canada said the airline wasn't commenting on the crash other than to note that an investigation had been started by the Transportation Safety Board.

A board spokesman said three investigators were en route to Gander to begin examining the Beechcraft 1900.

Chris Krepski said the team will also look at flight data recorders, weather conditions and information from air traffic controllers who were working when the Air Canada Express flight landed at about 9:30 p.m. local time.

Three passengers suffered minor injuries and were taken to hospital, but all three have been released.

Brian Hicks, director of safety at the airport, said there was a storm at the time but the crew decided to try to land the plane, which is operated by Exploits Valley Air Services.

"It was a stormy night here in Gander, no doubt, and the TSB will determine if that was a factor in this accident or not," he said Thursday. "That was the last night flight of the night...We had cancellations throughout the day because of the weather situation."

He said the landing gear on the plane was damaged, but didn't have more details about its extent. Photos on media sites appeared to show the nose sheared off.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Roger Flynn, whose members responded to the scene, said it appeared there was significant damage to the undercarriage of the plane.

— By Michael Tutton and Alison Auld in Halifax.

The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press
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