The pilot in a fatal northern Ontario crash last spring was not certified to fly in certain adverse conditions, but took off in the darkness of night knowing that poor visibility weather was possible, a Transportation Safety Board investigation has found.
Pilot Abhinav Handa and his three passengers — two of whom were fugitives — were killed in the flight, which took off from Dryden Regional Airport on April 29 bound for Marathon, Ont., and crashed into a heavily wooded area southeast of Sioux Lookout.
Aboard the plane were B.C.’s Gene Karl Lahrkamp, one of two men wanted in Thailand in connection with the murder of a former Abbotsford, B.C., gangster, and Duncan Bailey, who was wanted by police for breaching bail conditions related to a separate murder plot in B.C.
According to the investigation report released Monday, Handa held a commercial licence but was not qualified to fly in weather conditions that required the use of flight instruments, rather than visual references. Lighting was scarce in parts of the route he planned to fly that night, and he had been warned about bad weather by a Nav Canada flight service specialist, the report said.
Under Canadian Aviation Regulations, any pilot licence holder who wants to fly passengers at night must have completed five nighttime takeoffs and landings within six months of the planned departure. Handa had no such flights in his logbook six months before the accident, the TSB said.
The privately registered Piper Cherokee PA-28-140 was also carrying 170 pounds more than its maximum takeoff weight, the report found.
A woman who knew Handa — and asked not to be named out of fear for her safety — told The Canadian Press in May that Handa told her he planned to eventually fly to Toronto and was worried about the plane’s weight. She said they spoke at the Boundary Bay Airport in Delta, B.C., before his plane took off on the cross-country trip.
Handa told her he was carrying three passengers and had been planning the journey for at least a week.
Transport Canada has previously confirmed Handa and his company were not licensed for chartered flights and paying customers.
Neither Handa nor the fourth person aboard — 27-year-old Hankun Hong of Richmond, B.C. — appears in criminal records.
Lahrkamp, however, was wanted in connection with the death of Jimi Sandhu, a former Abbotsford gangster. The 32-year-old’s body was found near a villa in Rawai Beach, Muang district of Phuket, Thailand, in February, according to Crime Stoppers.
A reward of up to $100,000 had recently been offered for information leading to Lahrkamp’s arrest.
Bailey was wanted for failure to comply with bail conditions in connection with a targeted shooting in Vancouver on Oct. 6, 2020.
The TSB report said aircraft technical records did not reveal any defects that may have contributed to the crash.
After striking the trees, the airplane likely broke apart in a cartwheeling motion and both its fuel cells ruptured, the report found. The plane came to a grinding halt about 100 feet away from where it first struck the forest canopy.
— with files from The Canadian Press’s Amy Smart