When it comes to pushing for small-aircraft safety reforms, Greg Sewell has followed all the proper steps – researched what exists and what doesn’t, made note of seemingly obvious places for improvements, compiled it all into an easy-to-peruse binder and presented it to those with the power to enact change.
But as the third anniversary of the plane crash that killed daughter Lauren and her boyfriend, Dallas Smith, approaches with no sign that the calls for change are being taken seriously, he says he’s tired of feeling ignored.
On Aug. 13, www.smallaircraftsafetyreform.com will launch, calling – in a decidedly more public manner – on Transport Canada to finally act on repeated recommendations from the Transportation Safety Board and the coroner’s service and mandate that small aircraft manufactured prior to July 1978 be retrofitted with shoulder harnesses.
And, he’s inviting those who agree that it’s high time such a step – and six others he’s recommending – to sign an e-petition demanding action.
“What happened to Lauren should not happen to any other family,” Sewell said Friday, as he and his wife, Fran, previewed the website for Peace Arch News at their South Surrey home. “It’s just screaming out for change, the government is ignoring it and we want the regulations changed.
“There will be more deaths, as long as the government continues to do nothing.”
Reached Friday, a Transport Canada official said someone would respond to PAN’s requests for comment yesterday (Tuesday), but it did not arrive by press time.
Lauren Sewell, 24, and Smith, 30 had been dating less than six months when the Piper Twin Comanche they were passengers in crashed into a wooded area just west of Kelowna on Aug. 13, 2012.
Smith, who was sitting in the front passenger seat, died on impact. Lauren, who had been seated immediately behind the pilot, died two days later from what doctors told her parents was an “unsurvivable brain injury.”
A coroner’s report issued last October agreed, and ruled the crash accidental.
However, it also made two recommendations: that planes like the Piper be retrofitted with shoulder harnesses; and that consideration be given to development of a mountain-flying course.
“The coroner told me (that) had she been wearing a shoulder harness, she would’ve probably been out of that hospital in 30 days,” Sewell said.
For Sewell, it was a familiar message. Findings in a Transportation Safety Board report on the crash that was issued in November 2013 noted “the safety of passengers could have been improved if the aircraft had been equipped with shoulder harnesses to complement the available lap belts.”
At a news conference held that month in response to the report, Sewell noted Transport Canada had received “dozens” of TSB reports in the last 20 years that highlighted the increased risk of injury associated with a lack of shoulder harnesses in such aircraft. Those recommendations, he said at the time, have “fallen on deaf ears.”
He and Fran delivered their proposal for change to Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt’s Milton, Ont. constituency office last November. Promised a response “within months,” they’re still waiting, despite having made followup calls and receiving the same assurance.
“It will be nine months next week,” Sewell said. “I’ve become very frustrated as an individual trying to reform the laws in this country. This is something that clearly the government is ignoring.”
Service bulletins that recommend the move – such as one issued in January 1995 for the Piper – are also not enough, Sewell said, noting change will only be assured if Transport Canada issues an airworthiness directive.
Seventeen such directives were issued for the Piper in the years prior to the August 2012 crash, he said.
“Had they made the shoulder restraint the 18th one, our daughter would still be here today.”