Air Borealis passengers angered by airline's treatment after plane fills with smoke during takeoff

Smoke filled the cockpit on an Air Borealis plane during takeoff on a May 8 flight leaving Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (Jen White/CBC - image credit)
Smoke filled the cockpit on an Air Borealis plane during takeoff on a May 8 flight leaving Happy Valley-Goose Bay. (Jen White/CBC - image credit)
Jen White/CBC
Jen White/CBC

Picture this: you've boarded a small airplane, carrying just five other passengers. You're on the runway, in the midst of taking off, and the plane is a few feet off the ground.

Then the plane starts filling with smoke.

That's what happened to Hilary Rich, an Innu woman traveling home to Natuashish with her two-year-old son, Jaxon, on an Air Borealis flight in early May as it was taking off from Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Rich said it was "a surreal moment."

"[The plane] was five feet off the ground. And then the smoke is coming and then we're screeching, screaming. There's a big bang in the back of the freaking plane. The lights are flickering on and off," she said.

Submitted by Hilary Rich
Submitted by Hilary Rich

Rich said she shielded her son from the smoke with a blanket. In the ensuing commotion, she said, the pilots opened a window to help air out the plane and then made an emergency landing within a couple of minutes.

Passenger Miriam Lidd was shaken by her experience on the plane.

"That really scared me, right?" said Lidd, an Inuk woman from Nain. "I really thought it was going to blow up."

But the aftermath of the incident was even worse, she said. While passengers attempted to calm each other down, Lidd said, no one from Air Borealis checked in on them or asked if they required medical attention.

"They didn't ask if we were OK," said Lidd.

Submitted by Miriam Lidd
Submitted by Miriam Lidd

At one point, Rich said, an Air Borealis agent asked to see their video of the incident but asked no additional questions.

"She doesn't ask us how we're doing. She doesn't ask us if my son is OK. Nobody asks if my two-year-old son is OK, if he inhaled that smoke. Not one person," said Rich.

"I don't know if it's because of who we were.… I don't know, and I don't want to say that. But it's just—when are we going to say that? When are we going to know?"

Air Borealis wouldn't answer questions from CBC News but provided a brief statement.

"On May 8th, Air Borealis Flight 480 experienced a brief incident of smoke in the cockpit during the run-up to takeoff while departing from Goose Bay. The flight crew immediately aborted takeoff, returned to the terminal and deplaned all passengers without additional incident," reads the statement.

"Air Borealis was able to accommodate affected passengers on a different aircraft later in the day on May 8th. All passengers originally booked on Flight 480 elected to travel on the second flight."

Incident not reported to Transport Canada

CBC News also asked Transport Canada for details about the incident on Air Borealis Flight 480. In a statement, the department said the event hadn't been reported to Transport Canada.

"The department is following up with the air operator to review the circumstances of the incident and will take appropriate action if non-compliance with the regulations is identified," continued the statement.

Transport Canada said that while it isn't mandatory for air operators to report serious incidents and accidents, the department encourages operators to report "critical events."

Full investigation and refunds requested by passengers

Rich and Lidd wrote letters of complaint to Air Borealis about how the incident was handled. In her letter, Rich asked for a full investigation into the incident, and requested compensation for all passengers aboard the flight.

"This is not acceptable. Our lives do matter," said Rich. "We should be considered enough to tell us [what's happening], or even to say, 'Are you OK?' I mean, a good human decency is just to ask if somebody is OK, especially coming from a traumatic experience."

In its statement, Transport Canada said all commercial and private operators in Canada "are required to comply with Transport Canada's regulatory requirements and associated standards to ensure the safety and security of passengers."

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