BLOODVEIN, Man. - Thirteen passengers emerged from a plane unscathed on Manitoba's Bloodvein First Nation after the pilot was forced to do a belly landing at the town's airport.
Passengers on the Friday flight from Ontario said the pilot simply forgot to put down the landing gear.
Conrad Pascal was sitting next to the pilot and said he noticed nothing unusual about the final descent until he heard the screech of grinding metal.
"I've never heard a sound like that before," said Pascal, 23, who was on the plane with his girlfriend and the couple's one-year-old daughter. "It was a sliding sound... grinding."
RCMP said no one was hurt in the bizarre landing of the aircraft, which was operated by Superior Airways of Red Lake, Ont.
Pascal, who sat quietly in the cockpit the entire flight from Pikangikum First Nation in northern Ontario to Bloodvein, said the pilot simply forgot to drop the landing gear.
"He was shocked. He had this look... his eyes were wide," described Pascal, recalling the moment the plane touched the ground. "The tires weren't out but he didn't know that.
"We stayed pretty straight but turned a little to the left and then it stopped. We made it out safely."
RCMP confirmed the pilot failed to deploy the landing gear, as did Superior Airways president Mike Misurka.
"Pilots are human and they make mistakes," Misurka said. "They forget things."
The pilot has been suspended from flying while the matter is being investigated.
Misurka said the plane involved in the incident is the only one in Superior's fleet that is not equipped with the technology to alert the pilot to lower the landing gear in the event they forget.
He expressed frustration that smaller airlines are unable to attract experienced pilots, and typically hire new pilots fresh out of training. Superior will investigate whether more safety training is necessary for their pilots in the wake of the incident.
Pascal said the plane was badly damaged.
"The propellers are all bent back," he said.
All the passengers, including four infants, were from Pikangikum and had travelled to Bloodvein for a weekend-long church gathering.
(Winnipeg Free Press)