Seaplane deaths too awful to bear

It's difficult to imagine anything more horrific than being trapped alive in an airplane sinking in water.

Almost as horrifying would be visions of families after learning their relatives drowned because they couldn't get the doors of the aircraft open.

And equally as terrible is the knowledge that it all may have been prevented if Transport Canada had heeded warnings from the federal transportation safety board.

On Nov. 29, a seaplane carrying eight people crashed off Saturna Island. Six people, including an infant, drowned. The pilot and one adult passenger survived.

Safety board regional manager Bill Yearwood said those two people were sitting beside doors that popped open in the crash. The other doors, including the door through which passengers got on the aircraft, became jammed.

The evidence suggests that the passengers were alive after the floatplane hit the water because all but one of the seat belts were unfastened.

Yearwood told a press conference in Vancouver last week that his office has expressed concern for 15 years to Transport Canada about the risks to passengers in seaplane accidents. Board officials have also offered solutions, which have not been acted upon.

They want all seaplanes equipped with doors or windows that pop out. They also want it a requirement that passengers on seaplanes wear life jackets during takeoff and landing because it provides more opportunity to survive until they are rescued should a crash occur.

No one knows for certain whether these passengers would have survived. It is too awful to contemplate that they may have been fighting fruitlessly to open jammed doors. It's also possible they would have drowned anyway if they had escaped but without the aid of flotation devices.

It's unacceptable that recommendations based on the deaths of other people during a 15-year period have not been put into law. Every time someone dies in a situation that could have been prevented is a life lost in vain.

Transport Canada is behaving in a reckless manner by not accepting that the safety board is presenting essential information. Officials have refused comment while the investigation into this crash is ongoing.

The public, the media and elected politicians should eagerly await their response when all the information is in hand. If the final outcome appears to be yet another deferral of action, then the protests should begin.

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