What I learned from accident reports, and meeting Luc

I took an accident analysis course in 1999 and got more out of it than just learning about 'what happened'. The students would read different accident reports, respond to a few written prompts, and then share our reflections and perspectives in open discussion with the class. That course contributed to my “big picture” awareness in such a lasting way! Through those discussions I learned to be less judgmental, and more interested about why the people involved in the accidents did what they did. And going forward, I learned to inquire into my own behaviours and consider why I’m compelled to do what I do.

About 6 years after that course, and with a few thousand hours on floats and skis, I took a Twin Otter job in Malé, Maldives. That’s where I met my roommate, Luc Fortin. He and I had a lot in common, including our flying background and a keen interest in refining our "craft" of operating airplanes in the most professional ways possible. Before long I was looking forward to the evenings where Luc and I met back at our flat to discuss flying scenarios from our days, much like how my class reflected on accident reports. For example, one of us would talk about an approach or landing we may do differently next time; the other would listen, and contribute whatever might be appropriate. Repeat. Sometimes we would dismantle aspects of a single flight for a whole evening! Our relationship felt mutually supportive. We would often tease each other about who touched down on their mark and needed nothing more than flat pitch to decelerate - and who missed their mark! Or, who made the least amount of noise at the dock when there was no wind. Various pilot-technique stuff like that. Regardless, whoever got back to Malé first after sunrise would often have a cup of coffee waiting for the other.

That's Luc in March of 2006, as we were heading home after a dawn patrol shift.

Not to be forgotten

On October 27, 2011, Luc died in a King Air accident while on approach to 26L at YVR. Briefly, here’s what happened: About 15-minutes after departure from YVR, Luc and his FO noticed oil leaking from the left engine. They turned back and started a descent while referencing the Low Oil Pressure checklist. Luc elected to keep the left engine running at reduced power, and did not feather the prop. The descent and approach were uneventful until the gear and landing flap were extended. At that point, airspeed quickly decayed, Luc added power to the right engine, and at about 300’ he lost control of the airplane. Here’s a link to the TSB report if you want to read more about it. 

I still visualize being back in our flat in Malé, where I am describing to Luc the particulars of that future afternoon at YVR, including how he is going to die. I picture him shaking his head at me, incredulously, “Ohh Gordo! Don’t worry dude!!” (laughing, getting up from the couch with his scotch), “I won’t be doing that!!” He puts his glass down on the kitchen counter and walks away.

Pain, and opportunity for growth

For years after Luc’s accident I carried resentment, shame, and a sense of hopelessness. My struggling was compounded with other life events, such as flying a fatiguing bottom-block schedule, a very tense relationship with my ex, and processing other accidents that had taken the lives of colleagues. My low level of self-awareness led to an unsustainably heavy stress load.

As many of you are aware, I eventually reached out and found the help I needed, and have leaned into a life of connection, community, and support ever since. I feel happier and more at peace and am sharing some of my experiences with hopes to support other people around me as well.

Luc spent his whole flying career immersed in a ‘get it done’ culture, and after many years of processing, I finally came to see that he was doing his best. In fact, I think everyone involved was doing their best on that day and I likely would have done exactly what any of them did. Fortunately I now have a broader awareness, new tools, and am immersed in a more evolved and accountable culture. 


Remembering "everyone is doing their best" is an ongoing practice

Embodying the value of "everyone is doing their best" is more challenging when I turn toward the relationships in my life which have the most history: my parents, my sister, my ex... But they are people, and I know it holds true; they are doing their best with what they have, right now. They always are! I am just not always able to see it, particularly when I get entangled in thoughts like "this isn't how things
should be" or "they don't respect me", etc. The more often I remind myself of the truth, the better. 

My best never looks the same as it did yesterday, or even last hour. It's constantly changing. In Brené Brown’s book Dare to Lead, she asks her husband if he thinks everyone is doing their best. He replied, “I don’t think you can ever know for certain. But I do know that my life is better when I work from the assumption that everyone is doing the best they can.” I strongly relate! For me, this is more “big picture” awareness training, and sharing it with you is an example of what doing my best looks like right now. 

I still pay attention to accident reports with an open interest, focusing on learning about why it happened, rather than judging anyone for what they did. They were all doing their best, and on any given day, I might have done the same things they did. 

As I reflect on my own experiences, I'm inspired to continue developing my awareness and compassion for myself and others. If you also feel inspired and are curious to explore more, please join me for an online gathering! New Year course details below. 

Looking forward to being in touch over the holidays!

Yours sincerely,


A series open to people of all walks of life who are interested in examining the nature of their true self 
and ready to dive deep into embodied awareness. 
Click here to learn more.

A series for anyone interested in exploring mindfulness and emotional intelligence tools.
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