Obscured vision, perception played role in Tofino, B.C., harbour crash: safety board

Obscured vision, perception played role in Tofino, B.C., harbour crash: safety board
File photo of the float plane crash near Tofino in October 2021.

RICHMOND, B.C. — The Transportation Safety Board highlights the importance of designated landing areas in harbours that are busy with marine and air traffic as it releases a report on a crash between a float plane and a water taxi in Tofino, B.C.

The water taxi and a Tofino Air Beaver float plane carrying six people collided while heading for the same dock in October 2021.

The pilot and passengers were able to safely get out of the aircraft, although three sustained minor injuries, and within minutes it had capsized.

The board says neither the pilot nor the person operating the water taxi realized their routes would conflict until it was too late to take evasive action.

The investigation found factors affecting the perception of both operators contributed to the crash, including that the plane’s lower wing and the pilot’s seat position interfered with the view, and that the taxi operator was focused on the berth, not the plane coming from the starboard side.

The report released Thursday concludes that designated float plane landing areas can help keep aircraft operating zones free of traffic, and plane and vessel operators aren’t aware of each other because they communicate on different radio frequencies.

“If busy harbours that accommodate both vessel and aircraft traffic do not have designated aircraft landing areas, means for aircraft to signal their presence, or vessel speed limits, there is an increased risk of collision as a result of vessels and aircraft operating in proximity at high speeds,” it says.

READ MORE FROM 2021: Transportation Safety Board sends investigators to Tofino to probe float plane crash

The safety board sent a letter last February to Transport Canada saying therewere no speed limits for vessels in the Tofino harbour, and local authorities may have been unaware of the option to ask the federal government to restrict the use of pleasure craft or commercial vessels.

The investigation shows the float plane landed on the water about 80 metres away from the water taxi and the crash occurred about six seconds later.

It says the plane was still in the process of slowing down and the pilot turned right to reduce the force of impact.

The water taxi operator had been waiting about 300 metres from the dock for a space to open up when he heard radio calls from two other vessels announcing their intentions to leave and started to head in.

The report says the operator then noticed people on the dock waving their arms and trying to warn him of something, and when he turned to look he saw the plane about 15 metres away.

The report centres on factors including focused attention and visual detection of movement, saying research has shown that stimuli in the peripheral vision are harder to detect when the person’s attention is focused on a central task.

It says a person’s sensitivity to motion in their peripheral vision is diminished when an object or target is converging on the same point as the viewer.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2023.

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

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