Inquiry rules human error cause of 2011 Stettler area plane crash

Bold and aggressive piloting and an inattention to detail were partial causes of a 2011 plane crash in a field between Stettler and Bashaw

Bold and aggressive piloting and an inattention to detail were partial causes of a 2011 plane crash in a field between Stettler and Bashaw in June 2011.

On June 3, a Mooney M20C turbo plane piloted by Dean Sorken, 44, vanished off the radar screen. The wreckage was found burning in a field around 3:30 a.m. by RCMP.

The plane had departed Langley, B.C. and headed to Vernon, where Dean Sorken’s brother, Lee, boarded the four-seater plane. Lee Sorken was 39.

Both men had private piloting licences, with Dean Sorken earning his in 2008. He was rated for visual flight only, meaning he had to be able to see the ground and horizon to pilot safely.

The two men were on their way to a family wedding in their hometown of Killam when the plane ran into a bank of nasty weather, eventually crashing into the field 22 kilometres northeast of Stettler.

The plane had hit the ground so hard that it created a deep crater, and the wings had crumpled like an accordion, the findings from the inquiry said. Both Sorkens had died of multiple blunt-force injuries.

Gordon Welsby, who according to media reports in the Edmonton Journal, is a “highly experienced pilot, flight instructor and examiner,” called Dean Sorken a “bold and aggressive pilot,” one who didn’t pay attention to details.

“(Welsby) could not describe or fathom why Mr. Sorken thought he could fly into the prevailing weather conditions or why he decided to fly,” the report indicated.

The day of the crash, the Sorkens had been warned there was heavy cloud cover in Alberta, the report noted.

Since earning his licence in 2008, Dean Sorken had ratcheted up roughly 800 flying hours. However, just three months before the crash, Dean Sorken had become stuck in similar cloud cover and had to rely on the air traffic controller to guide him out. Another time, he ran out of fuel while en route to Killam.

Welsby went on to speculate that on the day of the crash, Dean Sorken might have been rushing to finish his day’s work so he could fly out to get Lee and arrive at the wedding. He was tired, and when he hit the weather likely began to panic.

“His ultimate reason and decision for attempting this flight will never be known, although the need or want to get home for the family wedding undoubtedly played a major role,” Welsby said

Insp. Mike Tomm with the Transportation Safety Board said there was no evidence that Dean Sorken suffered a medical episode, nor were there any mechanical problems with the plane.

Judge James Hunter oversaw the inquiry, and in the end concluded that given the high level of regulation and education already in place for pilots, no recommendations could be made to prevent such accidents from occurring in the future. Pilots have a responsibility to fly to their legal rating, skill and experience level. No regulation or recommendation is needed or could enforce this, he said.


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