How did Canadian, French military planes collide in Guam? Report gives new clues

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A Canadian military aircraft that collided with a French Air Force plane at a U.S. air base in Guam this past summer was only “partially secured” by the Canadian crew, an initial report into the incident says.

Both aircraft suffered “serious damage,” according to the report posted online last week, and added to the woes plaguing the military transport fleet that were further exposed during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip to India over the weekend.

The aircraft occurrence summary says the Canadian CC150 Polaris military transport plane flew to Andersen Air Force Base in Guam on July 21 to pick up Canadian service members participating in a multinational military exercise centred on Indo-Pacific security.

The plane landed and was taxied and parked at Andersen by about 9:45 p.m. local time. It was then loaded with equipment and baggage by the crew from 8 Wing Trenton in Ontario, with plans to depart the following day.

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“The aircraft was partially secured (without chocks), and the crew departed the airfield for rest,” the report says.

At about 10:30 a.m. the next morning, “the aircraft began to roll backwards,” the report continues. It continued to roll until its rear stabilizer smashed into the tail of the French Air and Space Force A400M military transport plane, which was parked two spaces over from the Canadian aircraft.

This image provided by the Department of National Defence shows the aftermath of a collision between a Royal Canadian Air Force CC150 Polaris aircraft and a French Air Force A400M plane on the tarmac of a U.S. Air Force base in Guam on July 21, 2023. Royal Canadian Air Force

“Following contact the CC150 rebounded forward coming to rest approximately eight meters from the point of impact,” the report said.

“Both aircraft sustained serious damage. No personnel were injured during the occurrence.”

The ongoing investigation has ruled out any technical issues with the aircraft and “is now focused on procedures, communications, and human factors,” the report said.

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It is too soon to say whether Canada will have to reimburse France for the damage to its aircraft, and when — or if — the CC150 will return to service.

“The course of action for the aircraft in question is still being determined,” Daniel Le Bouthillier, a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence, told Global News in an email.

Canada operates five Polaris aircraft, which have been in service since 1992, for military, medical and diplomatic transport. One is regularly reserved for the prime minister and other top officials. Two of the aircraft also supply air-to-air refuelling.

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The federal government signed a $3.6-billion contract with Airbus to replace its aging Polaris fleet in July, with expectations for the new aircraft to be in service by the fall after getting modified with increased capabilities. Crews are also being trained to operate the new planes.

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The Polaris fleet has faced years of mounting mechanical problems and on-tarmac accidents like the one in Guam that have damaged the aircraft and taken them out of service for months and even years.

Those issues were on display once again this week, when the Polaris that flew Trudeau and the Canadian delegation to the G20 summit in New Delhi was grounded due to a problem with a key component, stranding the group for two days.

A technician had to fly to India to fix the problem, with two more military aircraft deployed as back-up in case the issue couldn’t be resolved. The technician was ultimately able to install a replacement part and the delegation flew back Tuesday.

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In 2019, the CC150 Polaris most commonly used to transport the prime minister and other high-ranking dignitaries crashed into an aircraft hangar in Trenton, Ont.

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According to a military incident summary, that aircraft was stopped and awaiting a tow into the hangar with both the parking brake and chocks — wedges meant to prevent the wheels from rolling — in place.

But the plane began rolling on its own, right over the chocks, and its nose collided with the hangar wall while the right engine of the aircraft hit a tow tractor inside the hangar.

The aircraft sustained “serious damage,” the military said at the time, and was grounded for over a year for repairs.

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