An optical illusion created by the sun’s glare and a dark shadow from the rolling mountains above the Okanagan Connector are to blame for a plane crash that took three lives.
In May of last year, a float plane piloted by 52-year-old West Vancouver resident Colin Moyes took off from Peachland and crashed beside the highway, fatally injuring Moyes and his passengers, Peter Keate, 81, and Helen Keate, 79, his fiancé’s parents.
“As the pilot was climbing it just so happened the sun was shining right in his eyes,” explained Bill Yearwood, regional manager of air investigations for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
The plane had started in Pitt Meadows with four passengers and taken a 20 minute reprieve in Peachland to drop off one passenger. Moyes then took off on a route demanding it crest a knoll sitting in the shadow of a small mountain just beyond the Brenda Mines tailings hill.
Between the glare and the shadow from the adjacent mountain, the pilot gauged the ground incorrectly, making a right turn into the side of the hill, 30 metres below the Okanagan Connector.
“Dark things don’t draw as much attention, so they look smaller,” said Yearwood, noting the bright sun would have made the knoll seem lower.
The report indicates Moyes would not have seen the tree tops until moments before impact. A distress call was never made, though the investigation revealed he was cautious enough to call in his coordinates to the Kelowna airport even without being required to do so.
Three months later, a plane taking off from Penticton would suffer the same fate, crashing in a similar region along the hillside.
It is noted in this current report that the TSB will now provide better information on the mountainous area to give pilots a more clear picture of the terrain and how to compensate for its deep forested peaks and valleys.
“This type of accident often happens when visibility is low, at night, or during poor weather,” a statement from the TSB says. “Such conditions reduce a pilot’s situational awareness of surroundings and make it difficult to tell whether the aircraft is too close to the ground.”
Small planes are not required to have the same ground proximity warning equipment as large airliners, so flights like the privately owned de Havilland Beaver, a single-engined propeller plane, face greater risk.