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Canadian pilot impaired by carbon monoxide fumes in 2017 Australia crash: investigator

An officer carries a piece of debris recovered from a seaplane that crashed into the Hawkesbury River at Apple Tree Bay, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in NSW, Sydney, Australia, 31 December 2017.
An officer carries a piece of debris recovered from a seaplane that crashed into the Hawkesbury River at Apple Tree Bay, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park in NSW, Sydney, Australia, 31 December 2017. EPA/PERRY DUFFIN

A Canadian seaplane pilot was impaired by carbon monoxide fumes from engine exhaust when he flew off course and crashed into a river near Sydney, Australia in 2017 with the loss of six lives, a crash investigator said Friday.

Pilot Gareth Morgan, a former resident of North Vancouver, B.C., and his five British passengers died during a joy flight on New Year’s Eve when the DHC-2 Beaver flew low into a dead-end bay surrounded by steep terrain and then crashed into the Hawkesbury River.

Read more: Canadian pilot Gareth Morgan ‘upbeat’ before fatal seaplane crash in Australia: report

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the crash investigator, said autopsies revealed that Morgan and two passengers had elevated levels of carbon monoxide in their bodies.

“The levels of carbon monoxide were likely to have adversely affected the pilot’s ability to control the aircraft,” bureau chief commissioner Greg Hood said in a statement.

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Australian probe will raise seaplane from deadly river crash
Australian probe will raise seaplane from deadly river crash

The passengers were Compass Group chief executive Richard Cousins, his fiancee Emma Bowden, her 11-year-old daughter, Heather Bowden-Page, and his two sons William, 25, and Edward, 23. The bureau did not say which had been affected by carbon monoxide or reveal the concentration levels.

Investigators also found cracks in the exhaust system of the plane that was built in 1963 and bolts missing from a firewall that would have allowed carbon monoxide to leak from the engine bay into the cabin, the bureau said.

Read more: Australian investigators refloat Sydney seaplane after crash killed six

The plane’s owner, Sydney Seaplanes, said in a statement it had a strict program for engine maintenance and inspection which was performed by a regulator-approved organization.

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The missing bolts were not a fault that would be discovered by the pilot during his pre-flight safety checks, the owner said.

Canadian pilot, 5 others killed as seaplane crashes into Sydney river
Canadian pilot, 5 others killed as seaplane crashes into Sydney river

Based on the ongoing investigation, the bureau on Friday warned owners of all piston-engine planes to takes steps to detect carbon monoxide in cabins.

The bureau has not said when its final report on the cause of the crash will be released.