Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'I count my blessings every day'

Air crash survivor returns to scene

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A year after a plane carrying six American fisherman crashed into a busy Winnipeg intersection, one of the survivors returned to the scene to finally put the harrowing experience behind him.

"I count my blessings every day," Bob Haddorff, 58, a financial planner in Minneapolis, said yesterday, one week after he visited the intersection where the plane went down.

"This trip was getting it behind me. And the fishing was so good we'd already signed up at the lodge last year for this year. We had to go back.

"But when I was on the plane, I tried not to think about what happened last year."

Haddorff, accompanied this time by his 28-year-old son Bud, even spent the past week at the same northern fishing lodge -- Budd's Gunisao Lake Lodge -- where he and the other Americans stayed last year.

Haddorff was interviewed yesterday just after disembarking from a four-engine Voyageur Airways plane at Winnipeg International Airport.

Exactly one year ago, Haddorff, five other Americans, and a Keystone Air Services pilot didn't make it that far.

Their twin-engine Keystone plane ran out of fuel on its second approach to the airport, sheared off a light standard at McPhillips Street and Logan Avenue, glanced off a Winnipeg Transit bus, and sliced through the box of a three-tonne truck.

The plane struck two other vehicles and skidded down the street on its left side before coming to rest between the Red River Co-op service station and a line of houses on Logan.

Emergency crews rushed to the site while individuals at the scene used fire extinguishers to put out a small fire on the lane and began extricating victims -- some still strapped to their seats by seatbelts.

At the time, the crash was hailed as a miracle because everyone on the plane survived -- though they suffered a variety of injuries -- and nobody on the ground was killed. However, three months later, 79-year-old passenger Chester Jones died of his injuries.

After a 10-month investigation, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada ruled in April that Mark Tayfel, the pilot of the Piper Navajo Chieftain, and Keystone were responsible for numerous mistakes that led to the accident.

The TSB found the crash occurred because the plane ran out of fuel. The crash report said Tayfel didn't properly calculate how much fuel he needed for the 400-kilometre flight from Gunisao Lake to Winnipeg. The TSB also found Tayfel failed to ensure the plane was equipped with a mandatory autopilot, and he didn't tell air traffic controllers of his critical fuel situation in a timely manner.

As for Keystone, the company was cited for not providing an adequate level of supervision, for allowing the flight to take off without an autopilot, and for not having a safety system in place to prevent similar situations from taking place.

After the crash, Keystone was grounded for a week and fined $13,750 by Transport Canada for violations. Tayfel, a 12-year pilot, was also fined and had his pilot's licence suspended for 45 days.

The crash also sparked two more actions. Winnipeg police are investigating to see if any criminal charges are warranted, and the survivors have hired a lawyer to launch a civil suit.

Winnipeg police Const. Bob Johnson said the police investigation into the crash is ongoing.

"It will probably still be some time," Johnson said.

"We've had two people assigned to the investigation. It's still quite a long way's off."

Lawyer Winston Smith said he soon expects to file a statement of claim.

"You have to outline the basis of the claim and have the injuries specified, and it has to be itemized," Smith said.

Keystone lawyer Gary Burnside said it has been a tough year for the airline.

"I would say it's gradually improving, but it was a significant setback," Burnside said.

"The fact they are still flying a year after the fact says they are managing."

Burnside said Tayfel is no longer with the company.

Yesterday, Haddorff did not hesitate to roll up his sleeve and show the scars from his major injury. His elbow was shattered when the plane collided with the street. What's left of his elbow is now held in place with a steel plate and 10 screws. A 10-cm scar shows where the plate was inserted.

"At first, I couldn't pick up a pencil or eat, but every day I worked at it," he said.

"It's useable. I can hold a fishing rod with it. I'm at 90 per cent of where I was at before the crash, and that's from working on it for a year."

Last week, Haddorff returned to the McPhillips and Logan intersection, accompanied by the Winnipeg lawyer he and the other passengers hired to sue Keystone.

"I didn't remember the intersection at all," Haddorff said.

Haddorff, who was in the right rear seat during the flight, recalled that someone said "take crash position" just before the plane hit the Winnipeg Transit bus.

"That's when I lunged forward and hit my head and was knocked out.

"I was lying on the ground when I woke up. The first thing I heard was, 'Put him in that ambulance and take him to St. Boniface because he's not as bad as those two.' I thought: That's good."

Last week, Haddorff stood at the intersection and saw where the plane landed.

"It was busy. I wouldn't have landed there. You just trust when you get on a plane they'll take care of you. I was very fortunate."

Ann Louise Budd, who with her husband owns the lodge Haddorff went to, said it wasn't the crash that made them decide to switch their guests from Keystone to Voyageur.

"It was because we could get the larger plane up here," she said. " We can get all of our guests and supplies on it instead of bringing up several smaller planes."

Tim Muron, an employee at nearby Wescan Electrical and Mechanical Services who rushed to the downed aircraft with a fire extinguisher, said for months afterwards he thought about the crash every day.

"Every day I would remember what I saw in the plane -- the old guy, his leg was almost ripped off. It was awful."

Muron said everything happened so quickly he can't remember a lot of what he did. He does remember going inside the plane and using a knife to cut the seatbelt off Steve Jones, Chester's son, while others doused the flames.

"It will always stay in the back of my head," Muron said. "You hear about these things, but now I pay even more attention to them."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 11, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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