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British Columbia Plane may have crashed in Australia after Canadian pilot accidentally knocked out by passenger

A fatal seaplane crash in Australia may have been caused when a front-seat passenger accidentally knocked out the Canadian pilot of the aircraft, according to a media report.

The Australian newspaper reported that Jerry Schwartz, a new part-owner of the plane’s owner Sydney Seaplanes, suggested crash investigators have a “current belief” that the pilot, 44-year-old Gareth Morgan, was incapacitated before the Dec. 31, 2017, crash.

The paper reported this week that the possible scenario involved the passenger moving to take photographs of the Hawkesbury River, north of Sydney, as the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver flew over and accidentally striking the experienced pilot in the head with his elbow. Sydney Seaplanes could not be reached for comment by The Globe and Mail on Monday.

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Asked about the speculation, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said in a statement issued to The Globe that the investigation into the accident is continuing, with no final conclusions before a final report expected early in 2019, and no briefing to parties outside the probe.

“As this is an active investigation, the ATSB is unable to make an comment on the specific aspects of the investigation,” said the statement issued by the agency.

The ATSB is considering various issues, including the pilot’s qualifications, experience, medical information as well as “several other lines of enquiry,” the statement said.

Mr. Morgan was born in Sydney but grew up in North Vancouver. He earned an aviation diploma from the University of the Fraser Valley, and began a career in flight that included stops flying for operators in northern B.C., the Northwest Territories, as well as other high-Arctic locations. Eventually, he returned to Australia to fly for Sydney Seaplanes.

Also killed in the crash were 58-year-old Richard Cousins, chief executive of the prominent British catering company Compass Group PLC, his fiancée and her young daughter and Mr. Cousins’s two adult sons.

The notion of a passenger interfering in the operation of an aircraft with a single pilot echoes a 2010 floatplane crash off the west coast of Vancouver island that killed all four people aboard the aircraft. According to a Transportation Safety Board report, all three passengers had “high levels” of alcohol, and the review concluded “passenger interference caused the pilot to lose control of the aircraft.”

The report said the intoxication of the passengers may have contributed to their inability to realize the “gravity of the situation and stop the interference in time for the pilot to regain control of the aircraft before impact.”

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Rod Hayward, a trained pilot and associate business professor at UFV specializing in aviation management, said pilots, especially those facing the prospect of being at the helm solo, are generally taught about being mindful of risks posed by passengers.

“You’re taking on the role of the pilot, the flight attendant, the passenger safety briefing person – you’re doing it all,” Mr. Hayward said in a phone interview.

He said he couldn’t comment on the Australian crash but that there is no real training or contingency for single pilot dealing with his or her own incapacitation.

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