By DELON SHURTZ
Investigators are still trying to figure out why a small airplane crashed last month near the Lethbridge County Airport.
The crash killed the pilot and lone occupant of the aircraft, Glenn Saunders of Oakland, Fla., who was flying from his home to Vernon, B.C. to be with his wife and six-year-old daughter.
Saunders, 36, had flown into the airport July 20 before taking off on the last leg of his journey. He was flying a kit-built VariEze aircraft he had purchased used but had installed a Rotax 914 supercharged engine, a type of engine he had worked on many times before.
It's that engine investigators believe caught fire, prompting Saunders to attempt an emergency landing only moments after taking off.
Jon Lee, western regional manager for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said Monday investigators are awaiting word from the safety board's engineering branch in Ottawa before determining what caused the fire.
"We have some components into our lab for some analysis," Lee said.
He confirmed the components sent to the lab are from the engine.
Nav Canada, which provides navigation services at the airport, reported the day after the fatal crash that Saunders had radioed the airport his engine was fire and he was turning around. He crashed about 3:30 p.m. northwest of the airport, just short of his goal.
The safety board combed the site the following day for clues to the cause of the crash. The scene showed evidence where the plane may have skimmed across a field before it flipped over, struck an embankment and tore apart on a gravel road. Fuel spilling from the wing tank, which ripped off on impact, fed the fire which had erupted.
The pilot's brother, Mike, who lives in Westford, Mass., said Saunders had been flying for about 15 years and was a certified aviation mechanic and airframe specialist.
This is the first accident involving one of these planes in Alberta, the Yukon and Northwest Territories. The last crash at or near the Lethbridge airport was in 1990 when a Piper Cherokee crashed, killing one person. And 68-year-old Robert Drake of Lundbreck died after the ultralight aircraft he was piloting June 16, 1999 clipped a power line and crashed just after takeoff from the Pincher Creek airport.