The Uzbek community in Houston, Texas, is mourning the loss of a young family and a newlywed couple who died in a small plane crash in Kingston, Ont., on Wednesday.
Dozens of shoes were left in tidy rows outside the front door of Otabek Oblokulov's home in Missouri City, a suburb of Houston on Friday. Mourners gathered inside to support one another and help with funeral arrangements for the seven dead.
Oblokulov, his wife, three children ages 3, 11 and 15, along with newlyweds from Toronto, Bobomurod Nabiev and Sabina Usmanova, were all killed in the plane crash Wednesday night.
The families were flying from Markham, Ont., to Quebec City for American Thanksgiving. Oblokulov's plane hit the ground at a steep angle in Kingston, where the amateur pilot had planned a stopover.
"It's been a devastating tragedy for all Uzbek community," Askarali Karimov, a spokesperson for the Oblokulov family, told KHOU 11 News Houston reporter Chris Costa.
"In the Uzbek community there's no 'I' or 'me,' it's 'we.'"
Karimov described Oblokulov as generous and unselfish and said his family frequently hosted Uzbek gatherings.
Oblokulov was born in Uzbekistan, a Central Asian nation of 32 million that borders Afghanistan.
"When you have a person like that in the community, [his loss] leaves a hole," said Karimov.
Loved ones from the Uzbek community held special Friday prayers, or Jumu'ah, for the victims.
Oblokulov received his pilot's licence in 2018. He trained with Anson Aviation from 2017 to late 2018, said Dana Atkinson, a spokesperson at the flight school in Sugar Land, Texas.
"Everyone that knew him is sad," Atkinson told KHOU 11. "He was part of the pilot community."
As of late Friday, an online fundraiser for Oblokulov and his immediate family had received more than 200 donations.
"May Allah rest in heaven," one mourner posted in Uzbek to the fundraiser's public page. "May all be in Paradise," wrote another.
The Uzbek ambassador to the United States and Canada, Javlon Vakhabov, is travelling to Toronto to offer consular services.
Investigators move wreckage
Crash investigators with the Transportation Safety Board have inspected the site and will begin investigating the cause of the crash.
The TSB removed the remnants of Oblokulov's plane, a 1965 Cherokee Six, from the wooded area where it was found.
Parts of the plane, ripped apart and barely recognizable from the impact, were placed on a flatbed truck and covered with a tarp for transport to a TSB lab in Richmond Hill, Ont.
Larry Vance, a former crash investigator with the TSB, said the steep angle of the plane's impact suggests Oblokulov had lost control in the last moments of flight.
"A pilot wouldn't dive the airplane into the ground," said Vance. "If [the plane] is not in controlled flight then something drastic mechanically went wrong or the pilot lost control of the aircraft for whatever reason."
By looking at the recovered plane, investigators will be able to tell whether the engine was working before the crash or whether parts of the plane broke off mid-flight, said Vance.
"There's a checklist that they use," he said. Investigators will also be looking at the pilot's training and medical history, Vance said, along with other details like weather and maintenance records.
On Wednesday evening conditions were not ideal for flight — there was a low ceiling and winds were gusty. On Thursday a local pilot told CBC he would think twice before flying in those conditions.
While Oblokulov's plane did not require a black box or flight recorder on board, Vance said there are other ways investigators can go back and piece together a flight history.
The TSB can see if the plane was captured on radar and look at its GPS system, for example, he said.
"Most of the time the recordings inside a GPS will survive a crash," Vance said. "You can get some pretty good information as to altitude, speeds, rates of descent, and so on."
The Transportation Safety Board has not given a timeline of when it will complete its investigation, but if the agency discovers any safety deficiencies that pose a risk, the TSB said it will immediately share what it's learned.