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Survivor tells investigators about B.C. crash
Survivor tells investigators about B.C. crash
Updated Wed. Nov. 19 2008 8:10 PM ET

The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER -- A man who astonished his family and doctors by surviving a plane crash in British Columbia has given investigators valuable information about what happened before the aircraft smashed into a hillside on a remote island.

Tom Wilson, 36, was the only person to walk away from last Sunday's crash, which killed the pilot and six other passengers when the Grumman Goose float plane went down on Thormanby Island off the Sunshine Coast.

The rescuers that found him said Wilson told them he had been dozing before the plane went down, but investigators said Wednesday the Alberta man remembers what happened.

"I can tell you that the survivor's information will be helpful to our investigation," said Bill Yearwood of the Transportation Safety Board.

"He had clear recollection of a lot of the events leading up to the accident from the time of departure."

Wilson is recovering from burns at a Vancouver-area hospital, where investigators interviewed him Tuesday.

He had no broken bones or internal injuries, and doctors say he's making a remarkable recovery.

Wilson and the others were heading to the construction site of a hydroelectric project in Toba Valley, north of Powell River.

Names of victims released

The dead have been identified as Kyle Adams, Jerry Burns, Ajay Cariappa, Waldemar Klemens, Tom Orgar, Matt Sawchenko and pilot Peter McLeod.

A high school friend of Sawchenko said his girlfriend was pregnant with a daughter.

Mandi Steinman, 27, said he told her in an online chat last week that he was thrilled at the prospect of becoming a father.

"He said he was just so excited, he was super excited to be a dad," said Steinman.

Reports have identified Sawchenko's pregnant girlfriend as Teresa and on Wednesday a posting from a Teresa on a Facebook memorial page for Sawchenko said she had an ultrasound appointment later in the day.

"Since we have been home, Matt had heard his baby's heartbeat twice, but unfortunately, as I have my second ultrasound appointment today, he won't be here," wrote Teresa, whose didn't include her last name.

Relatives of Tom Orgar, a heavy-duty mechanic, have described the married 29-year-old as someone with a keen eye for fixing things.

His pregnant sister, Colleen, told CBC that her unborn son's middle name will be Thomas, after her brother.

The investigation

It could be months before investigators determine what brought the plane down.

Pacific Coastal voluntarily grounded its seaplane fleet following the crash but flights resumed Wednesday.

"What we've done is we've sat with all of the crew and ensured that they're all willing and able to fly, making sure where their head space is at," said company vice-president Spencer Smith.

It was the second crash of a Pacific Coastal Grumman Goose aircraft in just over three months. Five people died in the crash on Vancouver Island last August; two survived.

But Smith said the company hasn't made any changes.

"Until we have any answers as to what the causes are, it's hard to know what to change," he said.

Steve Lawrence, whose son Simon Lawrence was the pilot killed in the August crash, said the latest incident brought his family's grief right back to the surface.

"As a pilot, right from the very beginning of this, I've been thinking, `What went wrong?' My immediate reactions were, `Why couldn't I have been in the plane to help him?"' Lawrence, 59, said in an interview from Fort St. James, B.C.

"My wife, she just misses him so badly, and the same with his sister. And Simon's daughter, she's just devastated."

The board has yet to issue its final report into the August crash but has said there was no evidence of mechanical failure.

Lawrence questioned whether it's possible to make such a conclusion given the damage to the aircraft.

"Because the plane crashed, and it burned, a huge percentage of the aircraft wasn't recoverable," said Lawrence, who said he's seen the wreckage of the plane at the safety board's facilities in Richmond, B.C.

"We can't exactly state that there was nothing wrong, we can only say that there is insufficient evidence."

But Frank Del Gandio, president of the International Society of Air Safety Investigators, said even when an aircraft is heavily damaged there are enough clues to indicate the "probable" cause of a crash.

He pointed to Swissair Flight 111, which went down off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1998. The aircraft shattered into two million pieces when it slammed into the water near Peggy's Cove, killing 229 passengers and crew.

The plane was rebuilt from the shards pulled out of the ocean.

Still, conclusions are only the best theory based on the available evidence, he said.

"In most cases, the investigation will be accomplished to the extent necessary to come up with the best possible conclusion as to what caused that accident," he said.
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