Richmond Hill, Ontario – 3 October 2016 — In the release of its investigation report (A15O0031) today, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) cited expired qualifications, a lack of recent experience, and an elevated level of fatigue as the likely causes of the loss of control which resulted in an in-flight breakup of an aircraft that occurred near Sudbury, Ontario, in March 2015. All three people on board were fatally injured and a post-crash fire destroyed most of the wreckage.
On 17 March 2015, a privately registered Piper PA-32RT-300T, with the pilot and two passengers on board, departed Sudbury, Ontario, on an instrument flight rules flight to Winston Salem, North Carolina. Approximately 30 nautical miles south of the Sudbury Airport, at an altitude of 10 000 feet above sea level, the pilot advised air traffic control that there was a problem and that the aircraft was returning to Sudbury. Air traffic control cleared the aircraft to a lower altitude, and observed it turning and descending on radar.
During the descent, the aircraft disappeared from the radar. A search for the aircraft was initiated, and wreckage was located the following morning. The aircraft had broken up in flight, and debris was found as far as 6500 feet from the main crash site.
The investigation found that the pilot’s qualifications had expired, that he had flown very little in the period leading up to the accident, and that he had been experiencing levels of chronic stress and fatigue, and consequently that he was neither qualified nor fit to undertake the flight. The pilot, who was no longer proficient at flying in instrument meteorological conditions, likely became spatially disoriented after entering cloud in a descending turn, and lost control of the aircraft. While in a spiral dive, the wings broke due to extreme forces, causing an in-flight breakup of the aircraft.
Having concluded that the aircraft was likely overweight and outside balance limitations at takeoff, the investigation noted that if aircraft are loaded outside of approved operating limits, there is increased risk that pilots will experience difficulties maintaining control of the aircraft during flight.
Transportation Safety Board of Canada