TSB: Pilot experience and low visibility factors in Kingston plane crash

·2 min read

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has found the combination of a pilot with limited experience, and deteriorating weather conditions, were the cause of an airplane crash in November 2019 that claimed the lives of seven people.

The Piper PA-32-260 crashed into a field between Highway 401 and Creekford Road, in the west end of Kingston, shortly after 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019 while attempting an temporary stopover at Kingston airport due to weather conditions.

According to the release from the TSB, the incident highlights some of the risks of flying at night under visual flight rules (VFR), particularly when weather conditions are poor and over areas with little lighting. Visual flight rules refers to flying an aircraft without the use of electronic instrumentation, as opposed to Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), which is typically used to fly at night or in inclement weather and requires additional pilot training and certification.

"While the aircraft departed during daylight hours, the majority of the flight was to take place during the hours of darkness," the TSB stated in the release. "As the weather deteriorated throughout the flight and the aircraft neared the Kingston Airport, Ontario, the pilot contacted the Kingston flight service station and stated his intention to land there. Shortly after, the aircraft struck terrain approximately 3.5 nautical miles north of Kingston Airport. All seven occupants were fatally injured and the aircraft was destroyed."

The crash took the lives of a family of five from Texas, and a Toronto area couple.

The investigation found that the pilot departed Toronto/Buttonville Municipal Airport when the weather conditions for the intended flight were below the limits required for a night VFR flight.

The TSB said that the flight was planned over some areas that had very little cultural lighting, leading to the pilot having little or no visual reference to the surface during portions of the flight. "Cultural lighting is concentrated lighting around areas such as towns and cities," they said.

"Given the pilot’s limited flying experience, it is likely that he did not recognize the hazards associated with a night VFR flight into poor weather conditions," TSB continued. "While approaching the Kingston Airport, the pilot likely lost visual reference to the surface, became spatially disoriented, and lost control of the aircraft."

Read the full report here.

Jessica Foley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, kingstonist.com