The widow of former Alberta premier Jim Prentice and the families of two other passengers killed in a fatal plane crash more than two years ago are suing the owner of the private jet, alleging the company failed to maintain its aircraft or ensure its pilot was properly trained.
The three lawsuits target Calgary-based Norjet Inc., which owned the Cessna Citation jet that crashed shortly after taking off from Kelowna, B.C. on Oct. 13, 2016. Along with Mr. Prentice, the crash also killed optometrist Ken Gellatly, the father-in-law of one of Mr. Prentice’s three daughters; Calgary businessman Sheldon Reid; and pilot Jim Kruk, a retired RCMP officer whose estate is also named as a defendant.
A Transportation Safety Board investigation ended last year without determining a precise cause of the crash, but the final TSB report said the pilot likely became disoriented due to a “high workload” during a nighttime takeoff for which he had little experience. The pilot did not make any emergency calls and the jet was not equipped with a flight data recorder or any other recording devices.
The three lawsuits were all filed in late January and make nearly identical allegations: that the company failed to properly inspect or maintain the jet or ensure Mr. Kruk was properly trained, and that the pilot made critical mistakes during takeoff that caused the jet to crash minutes after leaving the runway.
Mr. Prentice was first elected to Parliament in 2004 and served in several cabinet posts in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government before leaving politics for the banking sector in 2010. He went on to serve a tumultuous eight months as Alberta’s premier before the Progressive Conservative party lost the 2015 election to the New Democrats.
Ms. Prentice is seeking unspecified damages for loss of income, financial support and other costs, as well as $229,000 for bereavement – the amount set out in provincial legislation for fatal accidents. The Reid family’s lawsuit seeks $5.1-million for damages and bereavement, while the Gellatlys’ statement of claim seeks $10-million.
The statements of claim have not been tested in court, and neither the company nor Mr. Kruk’s estate have filed statements of defence.
Don Friesen, one of four corporate directors of Norjet, declined to comment because of the ongoing litigation. Michael Dery, a Vancouver-based lawyer who is representing the company and Mr. Kruk’s estate, also declined to comment.
Ms. Prentice’s lawyer referred questions to a family spokesman, who declined to comment.
The plane arrived in Kelowna on the morning of the crash as part of a day trip to play golf in the Okanagan. The plane took off at about 9:30 p.m. and shortly after took a steep descending right turn and crashed into a wooded area.
The Transportation Safety Board speculated the pilot may have experienced "spatial disorientation,” which can cause a pilot to push down or turn controls when they think they are levelling out.
The TSB report found that while Mr. Kruk had decades of flying experience, he had completed just two night takeoffs in the six months before the crash. Transportation Canada requires pilots carrying passengers in the dark to have at least five such night takeoffs and landings in the preceding six months – a discrepancy that is noted in the families’ lawsuits.
The lawsuits also allege the pilot failed to conduct a proper pre-flight inspection, failed to monitor the jet’s flight instruments, and either failed to properly engage the plane’s autopilot system once in the air or that the autopilot failed, causing the pilot to be “overtasked and disoriented.”
The statements of claim also allege the company failed to ensure the pilot was properly trained and failed to maintain the jet. The TSB report said Transport Canada had not inspected Norjet in the four years before the crash.