Fatal 2019 accident highlights risk of night flying with inadequate visual references to the surface
Richmond Hill, Ontario, 4 March 2021 — The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) investigation (A19O0178) into the fatal November 2019 accident involving a Piper PA-32-260 in Kingston, Ontario, 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.
On 27 November 2019, a privately registered U.S. Piper PA-32-260 aircraft was conducting a flight from Toronto/Buttonville Municipal Airport, Ontario, to Québec/Neuville Airport, Quebec, with a pilot and six passengers on board. While the aircraft departed during daylight hours, the majority of the flight was to take place during the hours of darkness. 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 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. 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. While approaching the Kingston Airport, the pilot likely lost visual reference to the surface, became spatially disoriented, and lost control of the aircraft.
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. While the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs) require pilots to maintain visual reference to the surface for night VFR flights, they do not clearly define “visual reference to the surface.”
Since 2013, the TSB has investigated five other fatal accidents involving private aircraft on night VFR flights, each time highlighting the lack of clarity in the regulations regarding visual references. In 2016, the Board issued a recommendation (A16-08) for Transport Canada to clearly define the visual references required to reduce the risks associated with night VFR flights. If the CARs do not clearly define what is meant by “visual reference to the surface,” night flights may be conducted with inadequate visual references, which increases the risks associated with night VFR flight, including controlled-flight-into-terrain and loss-of-control accidents.
See the investigation page for more information.
The TSB is an independent agency that investigates air, marine, pipeline, and rail transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.
For more information, contact:
Transportation Safety Board of Canada