Pilot in fatal Stouffville helicopter crash identified, audio suggests low visibility during flight
The pilot who died on Tuesday in a helicopter crash on a flight to Buttonville Airport north of Toronto from North Bay has been identified as Jim Armstrong, who worked for Essential Helicopters.
According to his LinkedIn page, Armstrong had been a pilot since 1998.
“We are deeply saddened to have lost a longtime friend, colleague and experienced pilot,” Essential Helicopters, based in North Bay, wrote on its Facebook page.
Armstrong also worked as an instructor in the aviation program at Canadore College.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has assigned two investigators to find a cause of the crash in which it appears visibility may have been at least a factor.
Global News has listened to radio transmission audio between the Buttonville control tower and Armstrong, the lone occupant of the four-seat, single-engine Robinson R44 II helicopter built in 2005.
Armstrong’s helicopter was registered under call sign C-GMCT.
According to the radio communications, the Buttonville air traffic controller gave Armstrong two landing options at the airport.
“Cleared inbound and give me a call a couple of miles north of the field for runway one-five or two-one, your choice,” the controller told the pilot.
The pilot acknowledged the controller, who later asked, “How far back are you now?”
“Mike Charlie Tango showing ten nautical miles back,” the pilot replied, spelling out his call sign using the NATO phonetic alphabet.
Shortly after, the controller gave the pilot a progress report based on flight radar.
“We see you there about six (miles) north,” the controller said.
At that point, it becomes clear the pilot is having some difficulty finding the airfield, and may have changed his approach.
“Yeah, that’s affirmative – I got into zero visibility flying back northbound to get into clearer air,” the pilot said to the controller.
“Oh, OK, well do what you can there and we are showing 500 (feet) overcast here so it could be an isolated spot you’re in,” the controller said.
Later, the controller is heard attempting to help the pilot find the airport.
“Mike Charlie Tango, have you got the 404 highway off to your west?” the controller said.
“Uh, negative,” the pilot replied.
“About a mile west of your position is the 404 highway if that will help you navigate,” the controller said.
“Mike Charlie Tango, Buttonville: Is there anything I can do to help you get into better conditions there?” the controller continued.
Toward the end of the transmission, the controller asked the pilot if he is “IFR qualified,” an advanced aviation rating which allows a pilot to fly with instruments rather than only relying on visual flight rules.
To that question, the pilot replied: “Stand by.”
It is the last broadcast from the helicopter, which crashed into a field a few minutes later.
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