July 3, 2017 9:44 pm
Updated: July 4, 2017 6:22 pm

Penticton man’s tracking device could be game changer for light aircraft pilots

The story of a young couple missing after their small plane disappeared recently on a flight to Kamloops thrust the issue of light aircraft safety back into the spotlight. One Penticton man thinks he has the answer for quickly locating downed planes in B.C.'s vast and rugged terrain. Shelby Thom reports.

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It’s been almost one month since a small plane carrying two people disappeared from radar over the B.C. Interior.

The single-engine Piper Warrior was piloted by Alex Simons, 21, and the passenger was his girlfriend Sidney Robillard, 21.

On June 8 the plane left a Lethbridge training facility and stopped at the Cranbrook airport to refuel before it headed for Kamloops.

The plane never made it, prompting a large and ultimately unsuccessful rescue effort.

But could the outcome have been different?

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The aircraft was equipped with an emergency locator beacon that activates upon impact.

But it is presumed to have failed, leaving rescuers with little to go on in heavily treed and mountainous terrain.

Penticton resident Clive Ross believes his GPS tracking technology, usually used for ground transportation, could have made the difference.

“It just kind of woke me up and said, ‘heavens our I-50 will track that and report that immediately,’” he said.

The portable device can transmit satellite signals to tracking software on the ground every 15 seconds.

It can also automatically report the aircraft’s co-ordinates if it senses the plane is in distress.

“There is a high likelihood this (device) would have been sending a signal before the aircraft got down to the ground level and therefore the rescue people would know exactly where it was or within a mile or two,” Ross said.

Michelle Tuckwood, Chief Flight Instructor at BP Aviation in Penticton, is testing the device.

She said it could be a game-changer for the light aircraft industry.

“Nothing is going to replace good decision making but we can’t save you if we can’t find you.”

Tuckwood said some private pilots and small training schools can’t afford the other pricey GPS tracking technology on the market.

“There is a big gap because most aircraft don’t have one at all. They use the old school ELT which is on impact, it sends off, maybe it will trigger it,” she said.

The 25-year flying veteran said she is confident Simons and Robillard would not still be missing if they had Ross’s device on board their plane.

“Ya, they would have been found,” she said.

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