Tanker collision led to mounting panic


Transportation Safety Board releases report into May 2019 collision between a fuel tanker and an Air Canada De Havilland Dash 8-300

Two infants were tossed about when they were torn from their parents arms by the force of the collision

Passengers ignored instructions after the tanker collided with the plane, increasing the sense of panic and leading to unnecessary injuries

tanker collision at Toronto
An Air Canada De Havilland Dash 8-300 and a fuel truck collided at Toronto-Pearson International Airport May 10, 2019 (photo: Transportation Safety Board).

It must have been a frustrating night for the passengers on board Air Canada Jazz flight 8615 on the morning of May 10, 2019. Their aircraft, a De Havilland Dash 8-300, was back on the ground in Toronto, unable to land at their intended destination because of bad weather. What was supposed to be a 48 minute flight to Sudbury had turned into a two-and-a-half hour odyssey right back where they started.

It was dark and rainy as the plane taxied from runway 23 back to the terminal. And passengers on the left-hand side of the aircraft could see they were about to get hit by a 50-thousand kilogram fuel tanker.

The tanker was going 40 km/h when the collision happened. The truck hit the front of the plane near the flight deck. The plane spun 120 degrees, its propellers beating the top of the fuel truck, before the back of the plane hit the back of the truck.

The collision was bad – the plane was a write-off – but some of the 15 injuries could have been avoided, said the Transportation Safety Board, if only passengers had listened to the flight attendant.

Mounting panic

The first person to get hurt was seated in seat 1A, not far from the point of impact. The woman had taken off her seatbelt and ignored the flight attendant’s command to put it back on. When the tanker hit, she was thrown to the floor and would soon get in the way of the flight attendant doing her job.

At first, the FA ordered everyone to stay in their seats and remain calm. It was a futile command.

“Many passengers ignored the instructions from the flight attendant to remain seated and calm; some were gathering their bags from the overhead compartments, and some were escalating the panic by yelling that they needed to get out of the aircraft,” read the report.

Forty seconds later, the passenger in seat 9F climbed over the back of the seat, becoming the first to open a window exit. That person jumped from the aircraft while the propellers were still turning. Three other passengers would follow, two of them would get hurt.

Inside the cabin, pressure was mounting. The smell of jet fuel exhaust was filling the air and communications were becoming almost impossible. Passengers were yelling. No one heard the captain’s order to evacuate.

At 1:35, a minute and 14 seconds after the collision, the flight attendant tentatively opened the main door, unsure whether it was even safe. She didn’t have much choice – one of the passengers was threatening her.

A map shows where injured passengers were seated during a collision between a Dash 8-300 and a fuel tanker at Toronto May 10, 2019 (photo: Transportation Safety Board).

Chaotic evacuation

The TSB said passengers involved in a crash are likely to respond in very different ways. They may freeze and need extra help to get out. Or they may take on a leadership role, thinking they know more than the people in charge. The only way to stop these people is through a firm approach.

In this case, both types of personality were present.

“The flight attendant directed the passengers with shouted commands to leave their personal belongings behind and exit through the main door,” said the TSB. “Many passengers ignored the commands to leave their belongings behind. At least one passenger attempted to retrieve items out of a bag. When the FO began shouting commands to “Leave everything behind. Get out,” the passengers began to comply.”

At one point, a passenger got back on the plane while the evacuation was still going on to get some personal belongings. Others tried to follow suit. They were only stopped when the flight attendant, with help from the first officer, turned them away. Those people slowed the escape for people still in the cabin.

Three minutes and 38 seconds after the collision, the last passenger left the plane. The captain was the last person off.

The injuries

In all, 15 people on the plane were hurt in the collision with the tanker. The captain suffered broken ribs. The woman in seat 1A – the one who took off her seat belt – received minor injuries. Two people were hurt jumping from the emergency exit.

Two infants were torn from their mothers’ arms by the force of the impact. One was badly bruised after hitting parts of the plane and nearby passengers. Another hit the passenger in the next seat but wasn’t hurt.

“If new regulations on the use of child-restraint systems are not implemented, lap-held infants and young children will continue to be exposed to undue risk and will not be provided with a level of safety equivalent to that of adult passengers,” said the TSB.

A third infant was carried in a baby carrier strapped to its mother. That child wasn’t hurt. The mother, however, received back and rib injuries as a result of severe twisting forces.

The TSB has issued a recommendation to require infant restraints on aircraft, but progress has been slow.

The rest of the passengers were hurt by the forces of the impact.

“Due to the direction of both the initial impact and the secondary impact with the back of the fuel tanker, occupants of the aircraft were exposed to lateral impact forces, which led to back, shoulder, hip, head, and neck injuries,” said the accident report. “These types of injuries can be caused by flailing while being restrained only by a lap belt.”

Damage to the front end of the Air Canada Jazz Dash 8-300 is clearly visible in this undated photo (photo: Transportation Safety Board).

Collision causes

It was late when the tanker-plane collision happened – an hour when there’s usually not much happening on the apron. Neither the pilot nor the driver – both experienced operators – expected to come across anyone else as they went about their duties. The TSB said they likely never even saw each other until seconds before the collision.

Normally, vehicles have to yield to aircraft on the airfield. But that system only works if you know the plane is there. The driver of the tanker had his vision blocked by a lift structure just to the right of his cab. On top of that, the driver was wet because of the rain, and the windshield was fogging up. He would only have seen the plane in the final seconds and only if he was leaning forward.

The pilot had his vision limited by darkness, rain, and by lights reflecting off the wet pavement.

As a result of the collision, the Greater Toronto Airport Authority is reviewing its entire Airside Vehicle Operators Program. Menzies Aviation, the trucking company, has installed cameras to help drivers see in their blind spots.

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