Ontario plane crash survivor sues dead pilot, airline for 'pain and suffering'

WINNIPEG – The sole survivor of a plane that went down on a remote northern Ontario reserve is suing the airline and the estate of the dead pilot, claiming the negligence of both led to the crash.

Brian Shead has filed the lawsuit in Winnipeg court just over two years after the crash at North Spirit Lake that killed pilot Fariborz Abasabady and three passengers.

A Transportation Safety Board investigation concluded poor weather, ice on the wings and the pilot’s inexperience landing in icy conditions contributed to the deadly crash.

“As the pilot-in-command of the aircraft, the defendant Abasabady owed the plaintiff a duty of care to take all reasonable and possible action to ensure his safety during the flight,” the statement of claim says.

“The plaintiff states that the conduct of the defendant Abasabady fell below the requisite standard of care in that the defendant Abasabady failed to exercise the degree of care and skill that a competent, prudent and qualified pilot would use in the circumstances.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Keystone Air Service was negligent because it failed to provide proper training to the pilot, didn’t provide a plane that could handle the winter weather and “applied pressure to its pilots to complete flights in adverse weather conditions.”

None of the allegations has been proven in court and neither Keystone nor the pilot’s estate have filed statements of defence.

Keystone Air Service declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Anthony Lafontaine Guerra, Shead’s lawyer, said neither he nor his client would comment either.

“Our condolences and sympathy go out to those whose lives were forever changed … Jan. 10, 2012,” he said.

The plane took off from Winnipeg for the remote reserve in the morning, but was forced to circle the runway servicing the North Spirit Lake First Nation for almost half-an-hour while the strip was plowed. As the plane circled the landing strip, ice built up on the wings and tail.

The Transportation Safety Board concluded it was that buildup that caused the plane to stall and crash when it eventually tried to land.

The weather was poor with low cloud cover, snow and freezing drizzle. Many residents of the reserve, about 400 kilometres north of Dryden, Ont., rushed to the crash sight and tried putting out the flaming wreckage with snow, but couldn’t save those trapped inside.

The 41-year-old pilot died along with Ben van Hoek, 62, president of Aboriginal Strategies Inc., an administrative service for First Nations in Winnipeg. Colette Eisinger, 39, an accountant for the company, and Martha Campbell, 38, a band worker for the North Spirit Lake First Nation, were also killed.

Shead was injured but tried in vain to unstrap the other passengers from their seats and put out the fire on the wing. He has said he managed to pull the pilot out of the cockpit window before collapsing in the snow.

The statement of claim alleges the ordeal left Shead with multiple injuries, including “facial lacerations resulting in permanent scarring, multiple nose fractures, five chipped teeth” and multiple fractures of his left foot.

Shead was in hospital for about three weeks and required surgery, medication, physiotherapy and stitches, the lawsuit says. The surgery caused blood clots “requiring him to take additional medication through self-injections and to endure over 23 blood tests.”

The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages for “pain and suffering” and “loss of enjoyment of life.” Shead is also seeking undetermined “out-of-pocket expenses,” as well as compensation for “loss of income” and “damages for future costs of care.”

Shead is also claiming compensation for belongings that were destroyed in the crash, including a laptop, a pair of glasses, a pair of gloves, a pair of jeans, a winter jacket and a mobile phone carrying case.