29-year-old victim in fatal plane crash took aircraft without permission: RCMP

The victim in a fatal plane crash near St. Andrew's airport Thursday morning is a 29-year-old man from Thunder Bay, Ont., who did not have permission to be flying the aircraft, RCMP say.

Single-engine plane crashed around 4:30 a.m., St. Andrews mayor says

The victim in a fatal plane crash near St. Andrew's airport Thursday morning is a 29-year-old man from Thunder Bay, Ont., who did not have permission to be flying the aircraft, RCMP say.

The man was the lone occupant of a single-engine plane that crashed early Thursday near the St. Andrews Airport, north of Winnipeg.

He was an experienced pilot and was licensed to fly in Canada. He was known to the owner of the aircraft and had flown the plane before, said Cpl. Agathe Bilodeau of the RCMP. 

"We did confirm that the aircraft was taken without consent from the owner, but the owner did know the pilot," Bilodeau said.

Bilodeau said the plane was reported stolen by its owner Thursday morning, but held off from referring to the incident as a robbery.

"That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying it was taken without consent and the owner did report it stolen, but that's currently under investigation so we're just trying to clarify those details right now," she said.

Bilodeau said the pilot's family has been notified of his death.

Transportation Safety Board investigators look at debris in a field near the St. Andrews Airport. (Meaghan Ketcheson‏/CBC)

The small plane was leaving the Manitoba airport to fly to Ontario when it crashed, said George Pike, mayor of the rural municipality of St. Andrews, about 15 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

RCMP were called to Highway 8 between Parkdale Road and McPhillips Road just before 4:30 a.m. The police service has taken over the investigation because the plane was taken without permission, Bilodeau said.

Mangled debris is spread across Aviation Boulevard, a small road that runs along the west side of the airport beside Highway 8.

Fire officials at the scene said it is the worst crash they have ever seen.

The highway is closed in both directions and there is a detour, RCMP said.

A Transportation Safety Board investigator at the crash scene told CBC News the plane was a four-seat Beechcraft Musketeer.

Transportation Safety Board assessing crash

Eric Vermette, regional manager with the board, said the plane took off around 4:10 a.m. on Thursday, and the cause of the crash remains unclear.

There was no fire after the plane hit the ground, he said, adding that not all plane crashes lead to fires.

"Shortly after takeoff the aircraft collided with terrain just behind us. The aircraft was destroyed by impact forces," Vermette said.
The victim in a fatal plane crash near St. Andrew's airport Thursday morning is a 29-year-old man from Thunder Bay, Ont., who did not have permission to be flying the aircraft, RCMP say. 1:33

The board is assessing the incident but hasn't decided if it will conduct a full investigation. The assessment includes looking at air traffic records, radio records, wreckage components and conducting interviews.

"The Transportation Safety Board will conduct a full investigation and provide a report to the public if we can advance transportation safety by finding out the causes and contributing factors to an accident," Vermette said.

"So if there's a lesson to be learned, we will provide a full report."

'I heard this thing go boom'

Pike said it was a sad day in the small community of St. Andrews, where the airport opened in 1962. The facility, which caters to small aircraft and is used for flight training, is owned by the rural municipality.

"It's a busy airport. It's one of the safest airports we have in Canada and the record is very good," Pike said.  

"It's a sad crash." 

Mohammed Mudassir says he was awake and outside making a phone call when he heard the plane go down. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

Mohammed Mudassir is a student at Harv's Air Flight Training, located at the airport, and is staying in a dorm operated by the flight school. He was up at around 4:20 a.m. and standing outside as he made a phone call to family in India when he heard the plane. 

"I heard this plane going down at a low altitude," he said, adding it was quite loud. 

"After less than a minute, I heard this thing go 'boom.'"

His dorm was far enough from the crash site that he couldn't see what happened. 

Aaron Suitor, who is also training to be a pilot, said it was "rattling to see something like this.

"It doesn't even really look like a plane anymore."  

Aaron Suitor, who is training to be a pilot, said it was rattling to see the wreckage of the plane. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

Suitor started training two weeks ago and only has a few flights under his belt. 

"You wake up in the morning and you hear that something like this happened right beside your house, you just kind of really wonder what went on," he said.

"Like, how could something like this happen? This is one of the safest airports in Canada."

One person is dead after a single-engine plane crashed early Thursday morning near the St. Andrews Airport, north of Winnipeg. 1:05

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With files from Meaghan Ketcheson