Photo: Photo: Transportation Safety Board of Canada
Photo: Photo: Transportation Safety Board of Canada

When Flight 624 struck an antenna array and power pole while making its ill-fated landing at the Halifax airport Sunday morning, it interrupted power to the airport. Three backup power generators immediately came on, as designed.

But while the backup generator that powers the airfield lights — primarily, the lights along the runways — operated as it should have, two generators that power the terminal building operated for only eight minutes before shutting themselves down. The airport does not know why that happened, says spokesperson Peter Spurway, but he speculated that the generators are designed to shut themselves down when they become over-heated.

With the power out at the terminal, the electrical gate that allows emergency vehicles into the secured tarmac area where the crashed plane sat could not be opened; on a recording of emergency dispatches and scanner traffic obtained by the Examiner, emergency responders are heard asking how to enter the airfield. Additionally, emergency responders scrambled to find someplace to bring the 138 people who had been on the plane, ultimately finding a nearby hangar, but the passengers and crew had spent nearly an hour on the tarmac. Emergency responders also could not set up a command centre at the terminal building, but were quickly able to set up at the Alt Hotel, which did not lose power.

Hear the radio traffic between emergency responders here:

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Much the same scenario unfolded at the Halifax sewage plant when it failed in February 2008. In that case, one of the two backup generators fired up after a power failure turned itself off, ultimately resulting in the complete loss of the plant and the discharging of millions of litres of raw sewage into Halifax Harbour.

Spurway says the airport is investigating why the backup generators turned themselves off.

Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. Myles Goodwin reported on Facebook the next day after this incident, the band was departing from the airport when he noticed smoke coming from underneath his seat. The plane was evacuated at the end of the runway and it took an hour to get the passengers to the terminal..this happened over 20 yrs ago…Nothing has changed.

  2. IIRC, IWK backup generators failed as well not too long ago.

    I also noticed how the responder recalled a previous botched landing taking out power and communication lines “at the end of the runway”. Mabey we could learn from our mistakes once in a while? Seems like this might not be the best place to put high voltage feeders.

    1. That was the 2004 crashed, in which seven people died when a cargo plane was taking off. I asked about this, and was told they were two entirely different events, take off versus landing… the antenna array has to be directly under the flight path, I’m told. There’s another one at the other end of the runway.

      1. I understood NSPI POWER LINES were clipped BOTH TIMES and THIS time at least, BLACKING OUT the ENTIRE airport and starting up the immediately-failing Emergency Generators.

        That’s an entirely different sort of damage from cracking-off a few runway lights, radar antennas or other «hi-tech» navigational guides which, BTW, SHOULD have ensured that the plane did NOT hit ANYTHING except the tarmac.

        err…. INSTRUMENT LANDING anyone?????

  3. on a different note, compare and contrast to the statement shared with us this morning on CBC radio by the now airport communications frontman Peter Spurway, concerning the delay in reaching the passengers – talk about the art of non communication

  4. Forget Be Bold. Forget an Ivany Attitude Adjustment. Our provincial and municipal slogan needs to be something a little more specific. How about Be Competent?

    1. Thank you!!! We peasant Nova Scotians and Haligonians have been played the fool as long as I can remember by troughing politicians and the troughing incompetents with their cockamamie snake oil «solutions». So long as we continue to allow the dumping of mega-millions into the laps of troughers and shysters we condemn ourselves to be walked on and taxed to death.
      Clairtone; Heavy Water; Bowater; Floating Casinos; White Elephant «Trade Centre»; Bluenose; Westray; Nova Scotia Power Corp; SYSCO; DEVCO; ACOA; Tar Ponds; Self-Destructing Sewage Plant; Cooke Aqua-poisoning Inc; Capsizing California-girl Fireboat…. the list is literally ENDLESS and expanding faster than the cheques can be rubber-stamped….

    1. NO, NO, NO….. FAILURE can be the result of three perfectly avoidable consitions:
      1. INCOMPETENT design,

      1. NO, NO, NO….. FAILURE can ONLY be the result of four perfectly avoidable conditions:
        1. INCOMPETENT design;
        2. INCOMPETENT purchasing decisions;
        3. INCOMPETENT maintenance;
        4. INCOMPETENT operation.

        There is NO excuse for this kinD of, well…..
        I-N-C-O-M-P-E-T-E-N-C-E

  5. I find it interesting that an international airport has a single point of failure for power distribution, and that that point of failure is at the end of a runway. Seems a change is in order here. As for gates, that should have just been a matter of running a plow or other heavy vehicle through it. That should be standard emergency procedures (according to a retired air force officer I know, should not have been any need to discuss that.

    1. Even more head-scratching is the idea that the MAIN POWER LINE to the airport was constructed in a Flight Path….
      H-e-l-o-o-o-o-o-o-o ? ? ? ? ?

      Only goes to reinforce my contention that a complete LOBOTOMY is one of the entrance requirements for Schools of Engineering.

      I won’t even get into the sorry tale of constantly occurring failures of «backup power systems» hereabouts.

      Why the egregious expense and bother when failure is virtually guaranteed?????

      I’d bet, though that the overblown systems we provided Revenue Canada, the RCMP Snitch Squad, and HRP are virtually fail-PROOF!

      1. “… LOBOTOMY is one of the entrance requirements for Schools of Engineering.”

        This is nonsense. Every time you drive over a bridge and it doesn’t fall down you owe some engineer thanks. Not everyone is perfect, but to crap on an entire profession because of a single instance of trouble is idiocy.

        Its pretty easy to sit on your ass, wait for something somewhere to go wrong, and then snipe from the safety of your keyboard. Engineers designed the device you are using to complain with, and it doesn’t catch fire, where is your thank you letter?

        The world isn’t perfect and people will make mistakes. Name something useful you’ve done lately.

        1. I spent a large proportion of my working career cleaning up disasters created by know-it-alls wearing the «Iron Ring».

          I hold my breath going over your «marvellous» bridges, as I look down on ridiculous «engineered» but leaking and collapsing flat roofs.

    2. RIGHT ON! Not only that, but there should have been a MANUALLY-OPERABLE GATE immediately adjacent to the Emergency Response building so that ERs could unlock it in SECONDS to allow emergency access.

      But then the know-it-alls who designed and constructed such a ridiculously complex and failure-prone «Gate Opening System» ( sort of like their constantly-failing automated parking kiosks) must have been (poor things!) … victims of LOBOTOMIES!

      «Common Sense is so rare these days it should be classified as a SuperPower!» [source unknown]