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Overturned Floatplanes

On July 20, 1996, Pierre Meloche, President of the Association des pilotes de brousse du Québec (the Quebec bush pilots' association) died in a tragic seaplane accident. He drowned while trying to save his passengers after his Cessna 206 flipped as he was attempting a heavy water takeoff from Rivière des Prairies.

Pierre managed to rescue two of his six passengers, but, sadly, he and four others drowned.

"Learn from the mistakes of others; You'll not live long enough to make them all yourself ..."
has long been the banner of Transport Canada, System Safety. The following letter by George C. Velguth was originally published on the Internet and in the November/December 1996 issue of Water Flying. It sets an example we can all follow in learning from others:

The tragic Meloche accident has catalyzed me to stop merely thinking about steps to enhance my ability to egress an inverted floatplane and start implementing them. I was especially moved by the fact that his friend had apparently established his own avenue of escape, then drowned [while] attempting to save the children. Of course, any of us would probably do the same.

File C206 photo

However, in an attempt to avoid having to make such a choice, these are the steps I have decided upon:

Installing Citabria type, emergency-door hinge releases on all floatplane doors. Had these been in place in the subject 206, the tragedy Louis reported might have been reduced to the level of an embarrassment. This actually sounds like a good idea for all airplanes. I have seen these devices on a Cessna 175 floatplane, but know nothing about their availability. Anybody have any info?

Replacing my lap belt only restraint system with front- and rear-seat harnesses. It will do no good to install quick-release door mechanisms if I am knocked unconscious during a roll over. Does anyone have experience with the BAS inertia reel retrofit?

Outfitting each occupant with CO2 type PFDs [personal floatation devices]. While I am certainly concerned about my ability to extricate my children from an inverted floatplane, I am just as concerned about them drowning after extrication. Once [the floatplane is] inverted, it is too late to locate and don life vests. I will equip my personal PFD with first-aid supplies, matches, space blankets, etc. and a two way radio.

Stopping using a hand held GPS [Global Positioning System] with wires dangling all over the cockpit. I will install connectors for the GPS so [that] there is no risk of becoming entangled during egress. My portable intercom is due for the same treatment.

Giving every passenger a thorough preflight briefing on egressing an inverted floatplane, to include practice removing seat belts and opening doors. I have often forgone this briefing for fear of alarming passengers. Louis' tragedy has finally shaken some sense into me: I'd rather lose a ride (I do this commercially) than fly a passenger who is mentally unprepared for the most likely accident scenario.

Installing and utilizing baggage tiedown anchors. During many flights I am required to carry ballast for C [of] G [centre of gravity] reasons. To date, this has consisted of a couple [of] concrete blocks, unsecured, in the baggage compartment. Leaving these heavy things as a result of their tragedy. I know that I will never forget the story [that] you told in your post. It will become part of the training [that] I give to all future seaplane students.objects unsecured has been stupid. The above-mentioned safety steps would be for naught if a 36 lb. chunk of concrete were to smash into the back of my head during a roll over.

Finally, resolving to heighten my own level of awareness and diligence. I know [that] I too have made poor takeoff decisions. The next time [that] I am facing high winds, rough water, short take, [a] heavy load, etc., I will be thinking of this accident, and my decisions will be more conservative because of it.

The tragedy which overtook the Meloche family just happens to be my aviation nightmare. This is certainly why it affected me so. If it is any comfort at all, please know that at least one float pilot is changing the way he does things as a result of their tragedy. I know that I will never forget the story [that] you told in your post. It will become part of the training [that] I give to all future seaplane students.

Originally Published: ASL 2/1997
Original Article: Learning From Others