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Published: Saturday, 1/24/2004

Inquiry looks at safety of airline

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Georgian Express, which owned the single-engine plane that crashed into Lake Erie on Jan. 17, will not be in charge of transportation between Pelee Island and the mainland when service resumes today.

The airline, based in Mississauga, Ont., had its air operator certificate suspended Thursday by Transport Canada, stranding residents on the island.

The company is being investigated to ensure it is in compliance with all safety measures and regulations, airline president Paul Mulrooney said.

Georgian Express Flight 126 crashed into Lake Erie about a half-mile west of the island. A team of Canadian ice divers and investigators has been on site since Monday trying to recover the 10 victims who were on board.

The Ontario Provincial Police said the recovery team continues to search below the ice despite freezing temperatures and snowy conditions.

Two search efforts are under way simultaneously at different sites, officials said, including the use of sonar devices being lowered into holes in the ice to scan underwater.

The use of a magnetometer, which is used to detect metal, is also planned and will be deployed in another targeted area, officials said.

“The divers are now on the ice and they are continuing to search,” said Dennis Masse of the Ontario Provincial Police. “Unfortunately, the weather is getting bad and the supply helicopter was grounded.”

The Cessna 208 Caravan was carrying eight Canadian hunters and a woman from Los Angeles who was a friend of the pilot when it crashed shortly after takeoff.

A Canadian Red Cross trauma team is helping the victims families and friends who have been gathering in Kingsville.

Although concerned about the lack of transportation, Pelee residents said they don t mind the inconvenience as long as services resume promptly. Another airline is expected to resume flights to the island today.

Doreen Feltz, a year-round resident of the island, said that residents were planning on chartering a plane to bring the island s dozen or so high schoolers from the mainland. The mother of a senior in high school, Ms. Feltz said those on the island continue to think of the families of the victims involved.

“Everybody understands that this is a difficult time,” she said. “And it bothers everybody that those families still have not been able to get their loved ones back.”

Mr. Mulrooney said he expects the probe of his company to be completed within a few days. The suspension grounded each of the company s seven Cessna planes, used for chartering both goods and people.

“It s been a tragedy for everybody,” said Mr. Mulrooney, adding he disagrees with Transport Canada s decision. “Obviously we feel very, very strongly for the relatives and our condolences continue to go out to them.”



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