Company stops work on hydro project as staff mourn crash victims

SOUTH THORMANBY ISLAND, BRITISH COLUMBIA - Family members of one of the seven men killed in a plane crash on South Thormanby Island were turned away from the crash site.

"We really don't feel it was something they wanted to see," said RCMP spokesman Cpl. Peter Thiessen.

The three family members reached the island off the Sunshine Coast in a chartered boat and tried to climb to the burned-out wreckage.

"We had to respectfully turn them away," Thiessen said. "It wasn't physically capable for them to hike the two miles to the site."

Five of the seven dead were employees of Peter Kiewit Sons.

The sixth was a Finning employee and the seventh was the pilot.

The Pacific Coastal Airlines Grumman Goose amphibious aircraft was transporting the workers to a run-of-river hydro project in Toba Inlet via Powell River, where it was to pick up another passenger for the final leg of the journey.

The plane crashed about 10:30 a.m. November 16.

In a letter to employees, entitled "To our Kiewit family," the Kiewit workers were identified as Kyle Adams, Jerry Burns, Ajay Cariappa, Wally Klemens and Matt Sawchenko.

The one survivor, Tom Wilson, 35, also a Kiewit employee, clambered through dense forest to a beach, where he was rescued and transported to Vancouver General Hospital.

"I am personally heartbroken to have lost such good, fine men," Kiewit project manager Greg Dixon said in the letter.

"This tragedy will be felt, not just across this company, but by the wider community in which these men contributed."

Alex Pannu of the Christian Labour Association of Canada said two of the workers were flying to Toba Inlet for their first day on the job at the Plutonic Power Corp. project.

"Everyone's pretty devastated," said Pannu. "A union representative is on his way. "We're working with the families to see what help we can offer and to ensure they will receive all the benefits they're entitled to."

Pannu said 300 of the union's workers fly in and out of Toba Inlet regularly.

"They work for a few weeks, then they fly out," he said.

Four police emergency-response- team members spent last night on the island guarding the crash site.

"The ERT members will be responsible for site security and the security of the seven souls that are on this island," said Thiessen. "They have the training and the equipment and the knowledge to survive on that mountain should the weather turn bad.

"ERT will keep the area secure and ensure that there is no unauthorized access or wildlife entering the site."

The terrain was too rough to remove the bodies, he said, and officers will work out a plan on how to recover them.

The Grumman G-21A Goose built in 1942 was cleared for takeoff from Vancouver airport despite low clouds on Sunday morning.

Bill Yearwood, regional manager for the Transportation Safety Board, said the flight was cleared for "special" visual flight rules, which means the cloud cover was lower than the minimum under the rules.

A pilot's request for special clearance is common for flights on the West Coast, Yearwood said.

Investigators will look at the scars on the hillside and the damage to the aircraft to try to determine what position the aircraft was in before it crashed, he said.

"It is a very vast debris field. The aircraft wreckage is spread over a large area in the direction of flight."

The debris field stretches about 200 metres from the area of first contact, he said, which "indicates high speed as the aircraft entered the trees."

Marks on the trees and the plane's body suggest the plane was in "controlled flight and in a climb" when it hit the trees less than 30 metres from the top of the mountain.

Yearwood said the plane was flying at cruising speed and a lower altitude because of the cloud conditions. He said it will be difficult to recover the bodies.

"It is not an easy site for the coroner to extract the bodies," he said. "The terrain is rough. The aircraft is broken up in several pieces and there are two fire areas." Spencer Smith, a spokesman for Pacific Coastal Airlines, said the company has grounded all of its seaplanes until staff are debriefed.

"This is a pretty emotional time for everybody right now, and the trauma of this is pretty significant, so we want to make sure everyone is OK and in a comfortable position to get into an airplane again," he said.

Smith said the 54-year-old pilot had logged more than 12,000 hours in the air.

The crash was the second deadly crash in three months of a Grumman Goose owned by Pacific Coastal Air. In August, five people were killed when one of the vintage planes crashed 10 minutes after takeoff on a flight from Port Hardy to a logging camp at Chamiss Bay, near Kyuquot Inlet. Two men survived.

Meanwhile, construction company Peter Kiewit Sons suspended work at the Toba Inlet hydroelectric project yesterday and at most of its other B.C. operations as employees grieved the loss of their colleagues.

"This tragedy has struck all of us at Kiewit very deeply," said company spokesman Kent Grisham.

He said grief counsellors are at the 300-crew Toba Inlet camp - which was temporarily shut down - and at other offices to help employees cope with the deaths.

It is the largest number of lives lost in a single incident in the company's history.

The six passengers who died in the plane crash were on their way to work on the Toba Inlet project northeast of Powell River. Kiewit is building the run-of- river hydro project for Plutonic Power Corp.

The project involves building three power facilities at the headwaters of Toba Inlet that, when completed in 2010, are expected to produce electricity for more than 75,000 homes.

The power will be generated using the water from Jimmie Creek, Dalgleish Creek and the Upper Toba River. A large pipe will carry water from a man-made headpond created by building a dam. The water will be directed from the headpond through turbines in a powerhouse below.

The water will flow through the turbines and generate electricity to be carried away by transmission line to the nearest BC Hydro line. Once it passes the turbines, the water returns to its natural course.

Peter Kiewit is global heavy- construction company with western offices in Richmond and Edmonton. The company has operated in B.C. since the 1940s and is currently involved in several projects including the Sea-to-Sky Highway and the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge.


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