Stormy, cloudy conditions the day of fatal plane crash near Slave Lake, Alta.: TSB report

Transportation Safety Board map showing the flight track of a fatal plane crash near Slave Lake, Alta. on August 31, 2021. Google Earth, with TSB annotations

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said weather conditions were poor when a plane crashed in northern Alberta last summer, killing the pilot.

A board report says RCMP found the pilot dead two days after the crash in the rugged terrain of Marten Mountain, about 10 kilometres northeast of Slave Lake.

The investigation found the pilot had filed a flight plan and told a flight service specialist in Edmonton on Aug. 31 that he was taking off from La Crete, Alta., for Saskatoon International Airport, with stops in Slave Lake and Lloydminster along the way.

Read more: 4 people injured after private plane crashes at Westlock Regional Airport north of Edmonton

He was conducting a visual flight rules (VFR) flight, which allow pilots to operate aircrafts in weather clear enough to see where they are going, with strict requirements for visibility and cloud cover.

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“During the call, the flight service specialist offered to provide a weather briefing, but the pilot declined and informed the specialist that he had already retrieved weather information for the airports along the route and concluded that the conditions met VFR minima; however, he recognized that it might not be possible to reach his planned altitude owing to clouds,” the report released Thursday said.

He was flying a privately registered Mooney M20C, which is a low-wing, single-engine plane, built in 1964.

Read more: 1 man killed, 1 critically injured in Lacombe County plane crash in central Alberta

The report says the pilot, who was the aircraft’s sole occupant, called his family and said he would work his way around any thunderstorms, rain and misty conditions he might face.

A search after the plane’s emergency transmitter activated was delayed, because the bad weather made it difficult to get into the densely treed area.

The TSB said the plane’s damage was consistent with it hitting trees before it collided with the ground.

Transportation Safety Board aerial photo showing the flight path before the collision with terrain near Slave Lake, Alta. on August 31, 2021. Google Earth, with TSB annotations

The pilot had flown the route many times and had 2,800 hours of flying time in similar planes, the TSB noted.

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The report said the pilot had obtained his instrument rating in 1979 — which would qualify him to fly through clouds and poor weather — but “records indicate that he had not exercised the instrument rating privileges in the preceding five years and did not meet the recency requirements to do so.”

Read more: Saskatchewan pilot killed in northern Alberta plane crash

Investigators did not find any problems or malfunctions with the plane that “would have prevented the aircraft from operating normally during the flight.”

The Transportation Safety Board did not identify the pilot, but RCMP said last year an 84-year-old man from Rosthern, Sask. had been killed in a plane crash on Aug. 31.

Crashes in which the pilot has trouble navigating due to bad weather are not uncommon, the TSB noted.

“The hazards associated with continuing VFR flight into instrument meteorological conditions are well documented,” the report said.

Read more: Plane crashed in B.C. in 2017, killing Alberta couple, during bad weather: TSB

Some 115 people died in Canada between 2000 and 2019 in a crash due to weather in which the pilot lost their ability to see their surroundings.

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“Pilots need to plan ahead and consider strategies to avoid adverse weather, as well as have alternate plans should such weather be encountered,” the agency said.

“(Visual) flights that continue into instrument meteorological conditions often result in a fatal collision with terrain or a loss of control due to lost visual references.”

The private airplane was not equipped with a flight data recorder or a cockpit voice recorder, which the TSB noted is not required in that type of aircraft.

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— With files from Karen Bartko, Global News

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