Cargair, the school that was training two pilots who crashed mid-air over a South Shore mall Friday, does not think mechanical problems, the weather or language barriers were factors in the accident.
The students — both from China — were studying to be airline pilots. One of them died, the other was seriously injured. There were no passengers on the planes, both of which had taken off from the nearby St-Hubert Airport.
One of the planes ended up in Promenades St-Bruno’s parking lot, the other on the mall’s roof.
“The cause is not obvious,” Daniel Adams, operations manager and director of flight safety at Cargair, said in an interview. He said it’s the first such incident in the company’s history.
On Friday, “there was no reason to think something like this could happen. The conditions were perfect. It was a storm of good weather: there was no wind, it was magnificent, the visibility was excellent. So what happened?”
Adams, who has spoken with investigators from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said the cause “doesn’t seem to be a mechanical problem. Zero risk doesn’t exist but we do everything we can every day to attenuate that risk.”
He said both pilots spoke English well and the control tower was communicating with them in English.
A recording of the communication between the air-traffic control tower and one of the planes indicates that seconds before the collision, one of the pilots did not respond to four attempts to contact him about his altitude.
The planes crashed after one of the pilots inexplicably changed altitude, said Adams, who has been a pilot for 20 years.
Friday was a sunny day but Adams said he does not think the sun played a role in the collision.
“When you’re at the same altitude, yes the sun can be a factor but if a pilot is descending or ascending and not following instructions from the tower, then it’s not a question of the weather but of the piloting.”
The 21-year-old man piloting the plane that landed in the parking lot died, while the other pilot, a 23-year-old man, was seriously injured. Doctors do not fear for his life. Their identities have not been made public.
The man who died had a student-pilot permit and had 40 hours of flight time after seven months at the Cargair pilot academy, Adams said.
The injured man had a private-pilot license and had 140 hours of flight time after a year at Cargair.
Before they took off, the pilots’ instructors would have checked weather conditions and the pilots’ planned routes, Adams said.
They were both flying Cessna 152 aircraft, which are “the most used planes for pilot training,” he added. “They are very forgiving, very reliable and relatively simple to maintain.”
The flight training, which Cargair has been providing to Chinese students for more than a decade, takes about 15 months, with pilots graduating with a commercial license that requires a minimum of 200 hours of flight time.
Chinese students are taught in English.
“It’s clear that language comprehension was not an issue here, both students spoke English and met the language requirements for the training,” said Adams, who heard part of the recording of the communication between the tower and the pilots.
Investigators are to meet with the surviving pilot as well as the pilots’ instructors. They will also review the tower-pilot communication, as well as radar data showing the planes’ flight paths.
Cargair, which also has facilities in Mirabel, Trois-Rivières and Saguenay, trains about 250 pilots a year. The company, founded in 1961, has 130 employees and owns 60 planes used for training.
Promenades St-Bruno, which closed after the accident occurred early on Friday afternoon, reopened on Sunday morning.