We advocate for pilot and passenger safety by promoting regulatory change for light aircraft adoption of GPS technology to further help search and rescue missions.
As of 2018, there were 25 ongoing investigations with three determined so far to have non-responsive Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs). Further investigation is being conducted.
Our story and tragic journey began on June 8, 2017 when our 21-year-old son, Alex Simons, was embarking on his life-long dream of becoming a commercial pilot when he and his girlfriend Sydney Robillard went missing in their light aircraft somewhere in the interior Rocky Mountains, between Cranbrook and Kamloops, BC.
After having received his private pilot’s license, Alex rented a single-engine Piper Warrior from his flight school in Lethbridge, Alberta, to fly with Sydney to Kamloops to see family and friends. After refueling in Cranbrook, they departed around 3 pm and never arrived at their destination . In the event of an accident, the onboard 406 Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) recommended by Transport Canada is designed to, on impact, send a digital distress signal to a satellite system to alert the search and rescue centre. There was no ELT signal and it wasn’t until they were overdue in Kamloops that search and rescue authorities were notified. This was critical.
The percentage of accidents in which ELTs failed to activate
The annual cost of search and rescue missions in Canada
The number of civil aircraft in Canada that aren't equipped with a modern locator device
There was a major 11-day military search conducted over a 37,000 square kilometer area. Alex filed a flight plan but it was likely he encountered bad weather that potentially forced him to find an alternate route. There were no cell phone pings which may have been due to mountain interference and lastly, there was no radar target which indicated he may have been flying below radar detection elevations. There was nothing. They could not find them.
How and why, in this dynamic age of technology would you not be able to locate an aircraft? We needed answers. Our initial investigation of why the ELT failed led us to an astonishing history of its unreliability and we realized that there were many before us that were affected by this. We immediately feared that our story would continue to repeat itself and this prompted us to work with MP representatives on a Private Member’s Bill that all light aircraft have a GPS tracking system on board. It has been 19 months since we started this journey and there have been 3 more missing planes in Alberta and BC related to a failed ELT and countless more fatalities and injuries.
If we had known then, what we know now, about the unreliability of the ELT, we would have adamantly insisted that Alex carry a GPS onboard with him. What we would give to have known. ELTs FAIL.
Not only is it putting pilots and passengers at risk, but it is also a tremendous draw on search and rescue resources.
Very simply, if Alex had a GPS tracking system (approx. $500) on his rented aircraft, the chances of us finding them would have been undeniably higher and the search and rescue mission significantly reduced. As you can well imagine, it is this affordable and logical solution that brings the greatest of heartache.
We are not alone on this David and Goliath journey as there are many other families walking this storm and we are humbled by their stories of courage over sorrow. We are united in giving a voice to those who are gone and cannot speak; for the families that need healing and closure; for the safety of pilots and passengers that fly the skies now and for their families.
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