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Court quashes convictions against pilot in Winnipeg plane crash

WINNIPEG -- The pilot of a small charter plane that ran out of fuel and crashed on a busy Winnipeg street, leading to the death of one passenger, was not criminally negligent, an Appeal Court ruled Thursday.

WINNIPEG -- The pilot of a small charter plane that ran out of fuel and crashed on a busy Winnipeg street, leading to the death of one passenger, was not criminally negligent, an Appeal Court ruled Thursday.

While Mark Tayfel made mistakes, they did not merit convictions on one count of criminal negligence causing death and four counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, a panel of three Manitoba Court of Appeal judges wrote.

"However flawed his conduct was in addressing the sufficiency of fuel for the flight, I am of the view that this conduct ... is not conduct that meets the very high threshold of wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons," Justice Barbara Hamilton wrote on behalf of the panel.

Tayfel was a pilot with Keystone Air and had six American sport fishermen on the twin-engine Piper Navajo Chieftain that crashed at Logan Avenue and McPhillips Street in June 2002. Everyone on board was injured. Chester Jones, 79, of Kansas, died of his injuries three months later.

No one on the ground was hurt, despite the fact the crash occurred at the end of the morning rush hour.

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At his trial, Tayfel blamed the crash on faulty fuel gauges. He said they showed he had plenty of fuel before taking off from Gunisao Lake Lodge in northern Manitoba for the flight to Winnipeg.

But the trial judge ruled Tayfel made a hasty estimate, and handed him a two-year conditional sentence including more than 200 hours of community service.

The appeal court quashed all of the criminal negligence convictions Thursday, but upheld one count of dangerous operation of an aircraft.

Despite making a serious error about his fuel levels, Tayfel's "conduct cannot be said to have shown a complete disregard for the consequences of his actions," the judges wrote.

After the crash, Tayfel was found guilty by Transport Canada of two violations under federal aviation regulations: not having sufficient fuel and failing to have a functioning auto-pilot.

Tayfel moved to Calgary, Alta., and has worked as a dispatcher for an air transport company.

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