The Transportation Safety Board of Canada reported that
a loss of situational awareness could be the result of
what is known as the “black–hole effect. A black hole
approach typically occurs during a visual approach
conducted on a moonless or overcast night over water or
over dark, featureless terrain where the only visual
stimuli are lights on and/or near the airport.
The absence of visual references in the pilot's near
vision affects depth perception and causes the illusion
that the airport is closer than it actually is and,
thus, that the aircraft is too high. The pilot may
respond to this illusion by conducting an approach below
the correct flight path (i.e., a low approach). In the
extreme, a black–hole approach can result in ground
contact short of the runway.
June 2012, the TSB released its Watchlist identifying
the safety issues investigated by the TSB that pose the
greatest risk to Canadians. One of the safety issues
identified was controlled flight into terrain (CFIT).
CFIT accidents occur when an airworthy aircraft under
the control of the pilot is inadvertently flown into the
ground, water, or an obstacle.
these cases, pilots are unaware of the danger until it
is too late. This type of accident often happens when
visibility is low, at night, or during poor weather.
Such conditions reduce a pilot’s situational awareness
of surroundings and make it difficult to tell whether
the aircraft is too close to the ground. The risk is
even greater for small aircraft, which venture further
into remote wilderness or into mountainous terrain but
are not required to have the same ground proximity
warning equipment as large airliners.
Between 2000 and 2009, there have been 129 accidents of
this type in Canada, resulting in 128 fatalities.
Collisions with land and water account for 5% of
accidents but nearly 25% of all fatalities.
the events leading up to this accident the aircraft
experienced several large altitude deviations while the
pilot was using his cell phone. Cell phone use can
distract operators from essential operational tasks.
There have been no comprehensive studies regarding the
use of cell phones as a distraction in an aviation
context. The phenomenon has, however, been extensively
studied in the automotive sector. The Canadian Council
of Motor Transport Administrators defines driver
Distracted driving is the diversion of attention from
driving, as a result of the driver focusing on a
non–driving object, activity, event or person. This
diversion reduces awareness, decision–making or
performance leading to increased risk of driver error,
near–crashes or crashes. The diversion of attention is
not attributed to a medical condition, alcohol/drug use
There was no indication that an aircraft system
malfunction or pilot physiological issue contributed to
this occurrence. There were no drastic changes in the
aircraft’s flight path and no emergency calls from the
pilot to indicate that an in-flight emergency was
experienced. The gradual rate of descent, constant
ground speed and flight path would also suggest that the
aircraft was under the control of the pilot. As a
result, the analysis will focus on the phenomenon of
controlled flight into terrain.
The occurrence flight was over sparsely settled terrain
at night, where the absence of visual reference or cues
would deprive the pilot of context as to the position of
the aircraft relative to the ground. This would have
created a black–hole effect as the pilot approached the
Fort St. John Airport.
The aircraft had experienced several large altitude
deviations while the pilot was using his cell phone.
While it did not appear that the pilot was actively
engaged in cell phone communications during the last 11
minutes of the flight, this distraction was prevalent
throughout the flight and in conjunction with the night
conditions encountered, may have contributed to the CFIT
For undetermined reasons, the pilot descended too
low or was not aware of the descent and low altitude
of the aircraft, which resulted in an impact with
terrain. Pilots who engage in non–essential text and
voice cell phone communications while conducting
flight operations may be distracted from flying the
aircraft, placing crew and passengers at risk.