Two pilots who died in a plane wreck outside of Whati after losing contact with Air Tindi Wednesday morning were killed on impact during a “high” velocity crash, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) confirms.
“The aircraft did go through quite a few trees – about 300 metres is the wreckage trail length,” Jon Lee, the TSB’s western regional manager, said in an interview Friday.
“It broke up into many pieces,” said Lee.
Air Tindi lost contact with the King Air 200 plane between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Wednesday morning – around 24 to 32 kilometres outside of Whati – after departing from Yellowknife.
Following a weather-hampered search effort that saw the Royal Canadian Air Force deploy a Hercules aircraft, RCMP confirmed the deaths of the two pilots on board in a news release issued late Thursday afternoon.
An Air Tindi official declined to comment when NNSL Media approached him with the names of the deceased Friday, but other outlets have since identified the two pilots as Will Hayworth and Zach McKillop.
The airplane, according to Lee, was travelling at a “high” velocity when it crashed. The TSB categorizes the “energy state” of an aircraft on impact as either “high,” “medium,” and “low.”
“In a low energy impact, the airplane more or less still looks like an airplane, and may be survivable,” said Lee. “Once you get up into moderate and high, that’s when you get a potentially long wreckage trial, or the aircraft breaking up into many pieces – those aren’t survivable,” added Lee.
TSB investigators made their way to the crash site on Thursday, but aspects of the probe are proving challenging given recent heavy snowfalls.
“Unfortunately it was snowing at the time and afterwards, so when our investigators got there a lot of the telltale signs or ground scars we use to help us understand better how the aircraft contacted the ground, those were already getting covered up,” said Lee.
Some aircraft parts, he said, are buried in the snow, meaning investigators will most likely have to return to the crash site in the spring once the snow has melted.
A priority for investigators, who returned to examine the site on Friday, ha
s been locating a cockpit voice recorder that could hold clues to what caused the deadly crash.
The voice recorder, according to Lee, could have picked up multiple channels of sounds, including ambient cockpit noise, along with engine and propeller sounds.
Another channel could have picked up conversations between the two pilots, as well as their communication with air traffic control. The TSB is currently in the process of analyzing data, sent from NAV Canada, to learn more about the King Air 200’s flight path leading up to the crash.
Lee said it will be some time until the probe is complete.
“We have to make sure we take our time and get, as best we can, the best answer,” said Lee, adding it’s far too early to speculate as to what caused the crash.
NWT Coroner’s Service is continuing to investigate the two fatalities along with the TSB and the RCMP, confirmed chief coroner Cathy Menard on Friday.
A postmortem autopsy is being ordered, said Menard.
Tributes and condolences for the two pilots – and the Air Tindi family – continued to pour in across social media following yesterday’s tragic end to the search and rescue mission.
In a show of solidarity, dozens of Yellowknife residents have replaced their Facebook profile picture with a photo of the Air Tindi logo.
“It’s a very moving thing to see,” said Air Tindi president Al Martin Friday.
Martin said the company of 200 is still reeling from the loss of life.
“It’s very raw still. It’s a lot. We’re supporting all our people. One of our strengths is that it is such a tight-knit company, but it’s also – not a weakness – but it means it hurts so much more.”
Wreckage recovered from the crash site will be transported to Edmonton following the initial probe for a “detailed examination of the aircraft.”