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Review can't pinpoint why flight school plane crashed near Calgary killing two

Last Updated Feb 22, 2018 at 4:20 pm EDT

The scene of a plane crash is shown near Cochrane, Alta., in this February 2017 handout photo. The Transportation Safety Board says it doesn't know what caused a plane operated by Mount Royal University's flight school to lose control and crash northwest of Calgary last year.The crash on Feb. 13 of last year killed pilot Jeffrey Bird and co-pilot Reynold Johnson, who were both instructors with the program. A TSB investigation released Thursday says for unknown reasons the aircraft entered a spin from a stall exercise about a half hour after it took off from the Calgary/Springbank Airport. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Transportation Safety Board *MANDATORY CREDIT*

CALGARY – The Transportation Safety Board says it doesn’t know what caused a plane operated by an Alberta university’s flight school to lose control and crash, killing two instructors with the program.

Pilot Jeffrey Bird and co-pilot Reynold Johnson from the school at Mount Royal University in Calgary were about a half hour into a flight on Feb. 13, 2017, when the Technam P2006T aircraft started spinning for unknown reasons.

The men managed to get the plane out of the spin, but by then there was not enough altitude to recover from the ensuing dive.

Elizabeth Evans, dean of the university’s faculty of business and communication studies, said it’s unfortunate the safety board could not pinpoint what caused the crash.

“Nevertheless, we will carefully review the TSB report to see where we can further underline and embolden our safety procedures, erring on the side of supreme caution as we continue to focus on being one of the leading aviation schools in Canada,” she said in a statement Thursday.

The wreckage was found near a road about 50 kilometres northwest of Calgary Springbank Airport. Ground scars and damage to the plane were consistent with a high-speed collision while the aircraft was near vertical.

The plane burned after it crashed and the fire consumed almost all of it.

The safety board said given the damage, it could not determine whether there was any system failure or malfunction, but said there was nothing wrong with the components it did manage to examine.

On the day of the crash, Bird, a former Royal Canadian Air Force training pilot, had been undergoing multi-engine training with instructor Johnson, a retired airline pilot. That training requires stall exercises, the safety board noted in its report.

A stall is when the aircraft is angled in such a way that airflow over the wings is disrupted and lift is reduced. Pilots must know how to spot the signs of an impending stall and how to get the plane back into the right position if one happens.

The board noted that Mount Royal’s flight training material mentions two types of recoveries: one for when a plane is approaching a stall and one when it’s already in one. But Canadian and U.S. regulators both advise that the same technique — reducing the so-called angle of attack — should be used in both scenarios.

“If flight training units do not emphasize that the most important reaction to a stall or approach to stall is a reduction in the angle of attack, a loss of aircraft control may occur,” it said.

The safety board’s report also mentions a “non-standard training practice” it found some instructors at the school used in stall exercises, but could not determine whether Bird or Johnson had been exposed to it.

“If organizational safety processes do not identify and mitigate non-standard practices, manoeuvres that are outside of the aircraft limitations defined in the aircraft flight manual may be conducted, increasing the risk of aircraft accidents,” it said.

The board says Mount Royal took a number of safety actions after the crash, including increasing the minimum altitude at which an aircraft should be recovered from a stall.

It also acquired different aircraft for multi-engine training, clarified roles for when two instructors are on staff training flights together and revised operating procedures.