South Surrey father Greg Sewell is a member of a newly-formed task force that is to monitor the success of a just-launched aviation-safety campaign – a campaign based on the tragic circumstances that killed his daughter five years ago. (Tracy Holmes photo)

South Surrey father Greg Sewell is a member of a newly-formed task force that is to monitor the success of a just-launched aviation-safety campaign – a campaign based on the tragic circumstances that killed his daughter five years ago. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Daughter’s memory ‘could save countless lives’

South Surrey father says small-aircraft safety campaign is ‘a good start’

The father of a young woman killed five years ago in a small-plane crash in the Okanagan says the launch last week of an aviation-safety campaign inspired by the circumstances of the tragedy is “a good start… promising.”

After advocating for regulatory changes for years – and even though this announcement hasn’t quelled that drive – Greg Sewell said he is hopeful the education effort will save lives.

“It wasn’t what I was pushing for,” the South Surrey resident said Monday. “Then I realized, education is the way to go… as opposed to legislation at this time, to have a better impact on safety reform.

“If you regulate, a lot of (private pilots) aren’t listening anyway.”

The three-year campaign was announced in Kelowna on June 24, at the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association’s 2017 Convention and Trade Show.

According to information on COPA’s website, it is “aimed at educating pilots, passengers and the general public on key areas related to safety in general aviation.”

Sewell said he was advised of the campaign in February, during a meeting in Vancouver with Transport Canada officials, and was invited at that time to be part of a task force to track its progress.

Exactly how it will work has not been finalized, but its intent is to set a baseline “so we can see, are they getting it?” Sewell said. “If they are, maybe there’s no need to regulate.”

Sewell and his wife Fran have been pushing for changes since their daughter Lauren died after the private Piper Twin Comanche she was travelling in with her boyfriend Dallas Smith crashed at the Brenda Mines site near Kelowna on Aug. 13, 2012.

Smith – who was also raised on the Semiahmoo Peninsula – died on impact; Lauren, 24, suffered an unsurvivable head injury and died the next day.

The coroner told the Sewells that Lauren would have likely survived had she been wearing a shoulder harness; in a report issued in 2014, it was recommended such planes be retrofitted.

The following August, Sewell launched a website (www.smallaircraftsafetyreform.com) calling on Transport Canada to act on repeated recommendations from the Transportation Safety Board and the Coroners Service, and mandate that such crafts manufactured prior to July 1978 be retrofitted.

That same month, Transport Canada officials said the change was “not practical” and would endanger passengers.

“Most of these aircraft structures are not robust enough to support shoulder restraints in the event of a crash,” a senior communications advisor told Peace Arch News by email at the time.

The harnesses are mandated only in small aircraft (with nine passenger seats or less) manufactured after Dec. 12, 1986., but have been recommended for older aircraft repeatedly over the past two decades in both TSB and coroners’ reports

Sewell said he believes a strongly worded email that he sent to Minister of Transport Marc Garneau in May 2016 – criticizing the ministry’s inaction – was key in driving the latest announcement.

“I just ripped him a new one, because he was totally dismissive” of an earlier email regarding proposed changes around shoulder harnesses, Sewell said.

Of seven suggested reforms, six “could’ve saved (Lauren’s) life, had action been taken.”

In presenting his case to Transport Canada officials in February, Sewell said he set side-by-side photos of his father and Lauren – both at the same age – to drive home his point.

“He came back safe,” Sewell said of his father, who flew multiple bombing missions during the Second World War.

“My daughter goes up for the first time in her life, in a small private plane, and never makes it back. Him giving his life to the service and her counting on government to have the proper safeguards in place.

“If you’re going to fly by the seat of your pants, then don’t be taking innocent passengers. That’s what happened to my daughter.”

Sewell was in Kelowna for the June 24 announcement, and told PAN he could sense his daughter’s approval.

“I find it ironic that this national campaign would be launched so close to where the accident occurred, and felt her spiritual presence during the announcement telling me, ‘good work, Dad. You never quit’,” he said.

Monday, Sewell noted that COPA president Bernard Gervais privately acknowledged the potential impact of the campaign – “at the end of this campaign, her memory will have saved countless lives.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Statue of Lady Justice at B.C. Supreme Court in New Westminster. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Judge finds Surrey RCMP breached two robbery suspects’ Charter rights

This was in connection with the robbery of the Ritecare Pharmacy in Surrey on Oct. 10, 2017

This year’s White Rock RCMP children’s clothing drive was the best yet, organizers say. (Contributed photo)
White Rock RCMP children’s clothing drive ‘best ever’

Month-long annual event wrapped up Dec. 1

Unlike Vancouver, White Rock doesn't have the power to remove landlord restrictions on renting to pet owners, the city's Housing Advisory Committee heard Nov. 25. (CNW Group/Canadian Animal Health Institute)
No relief expected for renters with pets in White Rock

Little chance of removing landlord restrictions, housing committee told

Art rendering of Surrey’s Legion Veterans Village. (Submitted photo)
Surrey’s Legion Veteran Village to get 91 affordable housing units, B.C. government says

Attorney General and Minister Responsible for Housing David Eby made the announcement Wednesday

Representatives from the Delta Firefighters’ Charitable Society and local retailers present cheques for $5,000 to Priscilla Belonio from WINGS - Azure Place and Wayne Connorton from the South Delta Starfish Pack program, proceeds from the society’s “We’re in this Together” t-shirt campaign. (Dave Mason/contributed photo)
Delta firefighters t-shirt campaign raises over $11,000

Funds donated to Azure Place transition house, South Delta Starfish Pack program

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s coronavirus situation at the legislature, Nov. 30, 2020. (B.C. government)
Hockey team brought COVID-19 back from Alberta, B.C. doctor says

Dr. Bonnie Henry pleads for out-of-province travel to stop

B.C. Premier John Horgan on a conference call with religious leaders from his B.C. legislature office, Nov. 18, 2020, informing them in-person church services are off until further notice. (B.C. government)
B.C. tourism relief coming soon, Premier John Horgan says

Industry leaders to report on their urgent needs next week

An RCMP cruiser looks on as a military search and rescue helicopter winds down near Bridesville, B.C. Tuesday, Dec. 1. Photo courtesy of RCMP Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey
B.C. Mountie, suspect airlifted by Canadian Armed Forces from ravine after foot chase

Military aircraft were dispatched from Comox, B.C., say RCMP

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Photo by Dale Klippenstein
Suspect tries to thwart police in Abbotsford with false 911 call about men with guns

Man twice sped away from officers and then tried to throw them off his trail

An 18-year old male southern resident killer whale, J34, is stranded near Sechelt in 2016. A postmortem examination suggests he died from trauma consistent with a vessel strike. (Photo supplied by Paul Cottrell, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
“We can do better” — human the leading cause of orca deaths: study

B.C. research reveals multitude of human and environmental threats affecting killer whales

A logo for Netflix on a remote control is seen in Portland, Ore.,Aug. 13, 2020. Experts in taxation and media say a plan announced Monday by the government will ultimately add to the cost of digital services and goods sold by foreign companies. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jenny Kane
‘Netflix tax’ for digital media likely to raise prices for consumers, experts say

The government says Canadian companies already collect those taxes when they make digital sales

BIG SALMON ranch in Washington State. (Center for Whale Research handout)
Non-profit buys Chinook ranch in hopes of increasing feed for southern resident killer whales

The ranch, which borders both sides of Washington State’s Elwha River, is a hotspot for chinook salmon

Most Read