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Fatal Canadian plane crash has some thinking about child seats on aircraft

CBC NewsEye on the Arctic
RCMP photo

A tragic accident that claimed the life of a six-month-old baby in Nunavut earlier this month has some wondering whether car seats should be mandatory for airline passengers travelling with small children.

When a Perimeter Aviation turbo-prop plane went down in Sanikiluaq on Dec. 22, six-month-old Isaac Appaqaq was the only passenger who didn't survive.

Nunavut's chief coroner, Padma Suramala, said Isaac was thrown from his mother's lap and died of multiple injuries.

Airlines usually instruct parents to hold babies in the brace position for takeoff and landing. But in this case, Suramala said she doesn't think that would have changed the outcome.

"I'm not sure whether it will be any different in preventing this unfortunate death at this point," she said.

The crash has parents thinking about the safety of their children in the air.

At the Iqaluit airport there's no shortage of babies, such as one-year-old Rachel, who's on her way to Clyde River.

Amy Kalluk, Rachel’s mother, said this was her first time travelling with her daughter. She said that she’s worried about safety after the Sanikiluaq crash.

"I'd feel more secure if he were in my hands, in my arms, than in a car seat," said Sylvia Qulitaluk, the mother of an 11-month-old.

Ooleesie Tikivik's son Adamie will be two years old in four days. He's already a seasoned traveller, but his mother worries about holding him in her arms.

"Yes, I worry a lot. Even with my son, I've traveled like around eight to 10 times. And he doesn't sit still a lot, so it would be much safer with a car seat," said Tikivik.

Transport Canada encourages passengers to use an approved child restraint system or car seat when travelling by air with infants or children, and doctors agree.

"The first step would definitely be education. We do have legislation for infants riding in cars and maybe legislation for air travel is the next step," said Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician and author based in Atlanta, Ga.

However, that means parents must buy an extra ticket at hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars per seat.

"It would be tough because flights are expensive," said Tikivik.

Nunavut's chief coroner said her office is collaborating with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada and the RCMP on an investigation into the crash.

The investigation could produce recommendations on safer airline travel in the future.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.