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After two years trolling the ocean floor near Vancouver Island and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars, Kevin Decock may finally hold the key to what caused a float plane to crash and kill five people including his two brothers.

On Tuesday, Mr. Decock recovered the engine of the aircraft, which plummeted into the water off Quadra Island on Feb. 28, 2005, carrying Trevor and Doug Decock, Fabian Bedard, David Stevens and pilot Arnold Feast.

"For us, it's about finding out the truth ... there's a lot of chains that were broken," Mr. Decock said. "It shouldn't have been such a fatal accident. We're looking to make changes so this doesn't happen to other people."

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Mr. Decock believes the engine, which he gave to the Transportation Safety Board for analysis yesterday, will reveal that mechanical failure, and not pilot error, caused the crash, he said.

"We see there's fire damage on this engine, a tremendous engine failure happened here," he said.

B.C.'s air taxi industry has been accused of shoddy maintenance standards and a high number of deaths. The figures prompted Transport Canada to conduct a review of the industry in March, 2006. It is currently preparing its report, spokesman Rod Nelson said.

Based on its examination of the pieces of the plane that were retrieved after the crash, the TSB did not find any indication of mechanical malfunction, spokesman Bill Yearwood said. The cabin wasn't crushed and all of the occupants got out of the aircraft, he said. The plane likely hit the water at a slow speed, he added.

However, engineers who examined the wreckage for the families said oil spatters indicated a loose cylinder and an engine failure in mid-air. Lilianne Langevin, whose home on Quadra Island sits along the plane's flight path, said she heard the engine cough and sputter on its way down.

"You're so used to the sound of a plane ... I could tell that there was something wrong with these engines, so I stood on the deck because I was worried," Ms. Langevin said..

Mr. Yearwood said the TSB was eager to inspect the engine, but couldn't say when the analysis would conclude.

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Mr. Stevens's widow, Kirsten, said she's relieved they're closer to concrete answers, but she's wary about the process. The TSB said it is not responsible for search and rescue, and can only analyze information that's brought to it. The victims' relatives, not the authorities, have spearheaded and funded the quest for answers, Ms. Stevens said.

"We haven't been impressed with the investigation so far, when we thought there was clear evidence that something had gone wrong," she said. On Feb. 28, 2005, the float plane lifted off from Campbell River and disappeared into the fog en route to a logging camp on the mainland coast. It never made its destination.

Five minutes after takeoff, the plane hit the water southeast of Quadra Island, smashing one pontoon and ripping the right wing from the fuselage.

A trail of debris floating east past Quadra Island signalled a crash, and later, the body of Mr. Stevens washed ashore. An extensive search was launched by the Canadian navy, but none of the other passengers, or the plane, were found until the victims' families co-ordinated a major search effort.

Mr. Decock used sonar equipment to scour the ocean floor. And exactly five months after the crash, the hull was brought to the water's surface in an operation that cost the families about $30,000, he said.

The plane was empty, disappointing loved ones who wanted to give the four men a proper burial. As well, the engine fell out during the hull's ascent.

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But on Monday, Mr. Decock snagged the engine using a cable mounted with a hook and an underwater camera he bought for $3,000. Then he waited three hours, holding it in place, for a fishing boat capable of lifting the huge metal mass to the surface from about 240 metres below.

Ms. Stevens hopes the new evidence will lead to a coroner's inquiry.

*****

CRASH TOLL

Armina Ligaya

Fatal air-taxi accidents

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in Canada:

2007: 4

2006: 5

2005: 6

Fatal air-taxi accidents

in British Columbia:

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2007 -0

2006- 3

2005- 4

Non-fatal air-taxi accidents in Canada:

2007: 31

2006: 31

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2005: 33

* Transportation Safety Board not able to provide specific non-fatal accident statistics for B.C.

Sources: Transport Canada

and TSB

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