Names and pictures released of MRU aviation instructors killed in plane crash near Cochrane
Published Tuesday, February 14, 2017 6:07AM MST Last Updated Tuesday, February 14, 2017 10:04PM MST
Officials are investigating after two instructors with Mount Royal University’s Aviation Program were killed when their plane went down northwest of Cochrane on Monday afternoon.
The plane took off at 4:00 p.m. and the pilot was supposed to check in every five minutes but 16 minutes went by without any transmission.
The twin-engine TECNAM P2006T was reported missing just after 5:00 p.m. and Canadian Air Force officials confirmed it crashed just before 6:00 p.m.
A number of agencies were called in to assist in the search and rescue operation including a Hercules aircraft and a Griffon helicopter from the Canadian military, STARS, EMS and RCMP.
The wreckage of the plane was found 45 km northwest of Cochrane, near Highway 40, in the Waiparous area.
Mount Royal University President David Docherty says they have been in touch with the families of the deceased and can confirm that one of the instructors was Jeff Bird.
“This is someone who spent ten years in the military, he was an instructor in the air force and was a fully, qualified class-3 instructor and he brought that wealth of experience and his love of teaching to Mount Royal,” said Docherty at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s been very difficult, in terms of the flight instructors. They’ve lost colleagues. This is the passion they love, is to teach young people how to fly, and so it’s been difficult.”
The family of the second pilot, instructor Reyn Johnson, released photos of him on Tuesday night. He was an experienced pilot, logging over 20,000 flight hours in over 15 different airplanes in his career.
Officials say it was a routine training flight from Springbank Airport and that it is not unusual for two instructors to fly together.
“It’s not unusual. They were in an area that’s a normal path for instruction to take place and it’s not uncommon for two instructors to be up in a plane together. Our planes are in the air 364 days a year,” said Docherty. “Mount Royal purchased those planes, I think, approximately four years, I couldn’t give you the exact date, but they’re relatively recent planes to our fleet.”
Administrators say they are offering support to students and are making counselling services available to those who need them.
“We do thank the first responders who assisted last night and we are grateful for their service. We have reached out to the families and we are providing support to students, faculty, staff and the aviation program and I’d like to thank our own counsellors, counsellors from SAIT, University of Calgary, who’ve reached out to support our students,” said Docherty.
Docherty says the school will be working with authorities to determine what happened.
“In terms of investigating, we’ll be working with Transport Canada, who is in charge of investigating the accident and the cause of the accident and we’ll be assisting them in every way possible.”
“We deployed this morning from Edmonton out to the site and we’re in our process right now, is very early, obviously, in the investigation. We’re gathering all the evidence that we can at the site cause that’s perishable. We’ll be here today, most of the day, and we’ll probably be back tomorrow when the aircraft’s removed in case there’s any evidence underneath the aircraft that’s important to us,” said Fred Burow, senior investigator with the TSB.
Burow says they are looking at all aspects related to the crash and that the investigation will likely take a while to complete.
“We look at the human interaction with the crew, we look at the machine and we look at the environment. So we’re gathering all that data, radar data that we have, weather data and information on the pilots, on the aircraft and its maintenance, things like that,” said Burow. “At this point all I know is that the aircraft did come down over the trees and down this embankment and rest at the bottom of the embankment over here, where it came to rest and there was a post-crash fire in the aircraft.”
Luc Sinal the President of MRU's Aviation Student Executive spoke on behalf of his classmates about the deaths of two of the program's instructors.
“When we found out about what happened, myself and about 40 of my friends spent the night at residence, crammed into a residence room until two in the morning talking about our favourite memories from these two extraordinary flight instructors,” he said. “On behalf of the class, I’d like to offer my deepest condolences to the families of these two excellent flight instructors.”
Sinal says that the students are close to the instructors and that they found out about the crash together in an email.
“Extremely close, there are about 60 of us students between both years, split between approximately 12 flight instructors. The time we spend with these instructors is usually on a one-on-one basis so we get to know them extremely well and on an extremely personal level. Not only during the lesson and on the flight but also around the hanger and around the campus, we see them and they become like family to us,” said Sinal. “For me and I’m sure for a few of my classmates, it was the passion for aviation and the love of flying that brought us towards this program and these instructors only helped bring that passion out and help us discover the love of flying we had.”
Mount Royal University officials say the school has eight planes in total; five, single-engine Cessna 172s and three, twin-engine TECNAMs.
Officials say this is the first time an event has resulted in a fatality and that they have grounded the entire fleet.
“We’re grounding the fleet temporarily and we’ll be working with Transport Canada to make sure that we’re not putting any plane in the air. We don’t know the cause. It’s too early to make any definitive, but the planes are on the ground right now,” said Docherty.
The school says it is a difficult time for students and staff and that it will work with the families of the instructors in the coming days to make sure the students have an opportunity to honour the pair.
The aviation program at MRU has about 15 faculty and staff and there are currently 56 students enrolled.
Mount Royal University has posted more information on the crash on its website HERE.