Wearing of life-jackets to become mandatory on some seaplane flights

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Seaplane passengers and crew members will soon be required to wear life-jackets on certain flights, according to changes to Canadian aviation regulations announced Wednesday.

Patrick Morrissey, whose wife Dr. Kerry Telford Morrissey and infant daughter Sarah died in a 2009 seaplane crash off Saturna Island, B.C., applauded the announcement. 

“This definitely — not maybe — definitely will save lives,” he said.

According to a Transport Canada news release, commercial seaplane operators now have 18 months to implement the new measures, which requires that people aboard commercial seaplanes with nine passengers or less wear an inflatable flotation device while the aircraft operates on or over water. 

The wreckage of a seaplane is lifted onto a barge in Lyall Harbour in December 2009. (The Canadian Press)

For seaplanes carrying 10-19 passengers, flotation devices will continue to be required onboard for all occupants, but they will not be required to wear the devices.

Additionally, commercial seaplane pilots will now have to undertake mandatory training on how to get out of an aircraft while underwater. Pilot exit training must be implemented within 36 months.

‘Heading in the right direction’

According to the release, the changes are being made in response to Transportation Safety Board of Canada recommendations following investigations into the Saturna Island crash and another in Ontario’s Lillabelle Lake in 2012. 

But a retired TSB aviation investigator who worked on the Saturna crash believes the changes could have gone further by requiring emergency exits on seaplanes, as was recommended in the report he helped write.

“This will help persons that remain conscious after a water accident and are able to exit the aircraft,” said Bill Yearwood. “But none of this helps the persons trapped in a twisted wreckage with jammed doors.”

Morrissey says more regulations requiring pop-out windows and intuitive door handles would have been the icing on the cake. 

“At the same time, there are quite a few operators who have just decided to go with some of those safety devices anyway, including the major players in the States, he said. “At the very least, we are heading in the right direction.”

Six people died in the crash in Saturna Island’s Lyall Harbour. Their bodies were found inside the submerged plane, which had its exit doors jammed shut when the plane buckled on impact.

The pilot and one passenger survived after they escaped though a door that had popped open beside where they were seated.

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