Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pilot to Serve His Sentence in the Community

As a follow up to yesterday's post.

Pilot avoids jail term
By: Mike McIntyre

Updated: March 20 at 03:42 PM CDT

Print Article E-mail Article Mark Tayfel crashed an airplane in a busy Winnipeg intersection and lived to tell about it. Now the former pilot has escaped a jail sentence for negligent actions that killed an elderly passenger.

Queen's Bench Justice Holly Beard ruled this afternoon Tayfel could remain in the community under a two year conditional sentence for the June 2002 tragedy. His conditions include a daily curfew and 240 hours of community service work which Beard hopes will involve speaking to young pilots about the errors he made during that fateful flight.

"The accused is a fine person who's made some terrible mistakes in an otherwise good life. The events are truly tragic and have affected many lives. It's a no win situation for all involved," Beard told court.

"Nothing in this case suggests a need to separate this offender from the community."

Beard lashed out at the airline industry for a "culture" of negligence which allows -- or perhaps even forces -- pilots to often cut corners.

"It's clear the failure to follow aeronautics regulations is very prevalent. The culture shouldn't be one that pressures young pilots to break the law," said Beard.

"Despite that culture, it doesn't excuse pilots who break the law and engage in risky behaviour. Society will not sit by and allow our safety and security to be put at risk."

Tayfel and six American fishers were injured when both of the plane's engines cut out shortly after Tayfel missed his first attempt at landing at Winnipeg International Airport. The plane came to rest on Logan Avenue just west of McPhillips Street.

Tayfel had taken off earlier that morning from a northern fishing lodge without enough fuel on board to get to his destination.

Everyone survived the crash, but Kansas resident Chester Jones, 79, died a few weeks later from his injuries.

"I was very moved by the description of Chester Jones. The loss to his family and community is immense and can never be replaced," Beard said today/

Crown attorney Brian Wilford told court yesterday that Tayfel should spend time behind bars for the reckless risk-taking of not carrying enough fuel and then attempting to land the plane without telling anyone on the ground about his problem until it was too late.

"The moral culpability of Mr. Tayfel is extreme. He had so many opportunities to rectify the situation. And yet he did nothing," Wilford said.

"He endangered so many people... because his concern was his reputation. It is an absolute miracle no one on the ground was seriously injured or killed. I'd say a landing like that couldn't be done again in a million years."

Defence lawyer Balfour Der said putting a good man like Tayfel behind bars wouldn't accomplish anything.

"This man did not set out to crash that airplane, to run out of fuel, to put anyone, including himself, in danger," Der said.

He told court Tayfel could be utilized as a mentor to young pilots in training, speaking to them about his deadly mistake and preaching the value in following aviation regulations.

Tayfel, 42, gave a tearful apology to his victims yesterday, including family members of the man who died.

"I was in charge of that aircraft. It was my responsibility to get the passengers safely back to Winnipeg. I failed to do that," he told a packed courtroom.

Tayfel declined to speak with reporters following court today. Der said his client is "still in a state of shock" over what happened but thankful he's going home to Calgary.

Der said they are considering an appeal of Beard's decision to convict Tayfel of criminal negligence causing death, four counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm and dangerous operation of an aircraft in one of the first cases of its kind in Canada.

He suggested Tayfel's employer at the time of the crash, Keystone Air, should have also been held liable and that his client has been made the "whipping boy" for an industry fraught with problems.

"They're not here in court supporting Mr. Tayfel. They headed for the hills," Der said outside court. He was encouraged by Beard's critical comments about the airline industry and hopes this case sends a strong message.

"These young pilots are really being forced into a tough situation," he said.

An aviation expert called by the defence claimed at trial that the real blame for the disaster should rest with Keystone Air. Robert Lemieux said the company "pressured" Tayfel into doing his flight, despite the fact he'd raised concerns with the chief pilot that his Piper Navajo wasn't equipped with a mandatory auto-pilot.

The device likely would have helped Tayfel make a safe landing in Winnipeg. Instead, he came out of the clouds too high and too fast -- with both engines on the verge of cutting out -- and missed the runway completely. Tayfel then crashed as he tried to swing around to make another landing attempt.

A retired Air Canada pilot took the witness stand yesterday on behalf of the defence and said too many shortcuts are being taken by employers focused on making money, at the expense of young pilots who feel there is no choice but to quietly obey orders.

"These kids get out there and they're expected to do things they know aren't by the book. There's a culture in that sector of the industry where it's get the job done, and if somebody bends the rules a little bit, nobody says anything about it," Dale Andersen said.

He now works as a mentor and counselor to pilots through the airline union and recently spent time with Tayfel, calling him a "mild-mannered, compliant" person who lacks the ego many pilots often possess.

Andersen told court allowing Tayfel to speak about his experience to others would be making "something positive" out of a tragic situation.

Tayfel has no prior criminal record, strong family and community support and is unlikely to find work again as a pilot because nobody wants to hire him, court was told.

Wilford said that's not enough.

"Mr. Tayfel got caught doing what other pilots seem to do quite regularly. Other pilots didn't get caught because they didn't crash. But other pilots must be deterred from even thinking about it," he said.


Davis Bigelow said...

A tough call for the court to be sure! I do agree that the pilot probably didn't set out to inflict harm. Very sad, and made even more painful by the fact that the accident was 100% preventable. Let this be a lesson to me to pay attention!

James said...

Hey Davis!

Ya, I think it is a tough call. I hope that this will be a good balance of being able to act as a warning for young pilots. One of the toughest things to do is say "NO" -especially early in your career. This may make it a little easier.

Davis Bigelow said...

I've been there - at least in my own version. When I was 18, I worked in a general store and the manager ordered me to cross out the expiry date on a dairy product and put it back on the shelf. A pretty minor request, but when I refused he threatened to cut my throat with the knife he was holding. He was the butcher as well as the manager, and was too old and too small for me to take his knife too seriously, but still - the whole event was disturbing enough. Those in positions of power have a trust that is often tainted with pride and arrogance instead of reverence and humility. Such is life. Of course, some workers just need to grow a backbone. What's the old saying? "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything."