Five of the seven people who died in a small plane crash in Canada were members of a Houston-area family, according to friends of the family.
A spokeswoman for the Ontario chief coroner’s office said the victims’ names likely won’t be released for several days.
“The identities of the deceased persons will not be released to authorities until they have all been positively identified by scientific methods and next of kin have been notified,” issues manager Cheryl Mahyr said in a statement Friday.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said the U.S.-registered, single-engine, six-seat Piper PA-32 airplane crashed about 5 p.m. Wednesday in a wooded area of Kingston, Ontario, about 90 miles (145 kilometres) southwest of Ottawa on the Ontario-New York border.
The plane had taken off from Buttonville municipal airport in Markham and was on approach to Kingston’s airport when officials say it took a steep dive into the wooded area. Kingston Police Constable Ash Gutheinz said the area was under a wind advisory at the time, and while winds may not have been as bad as predicted, it was certainly “blustery.”
The aircraft did not have a flight data recorder, nor was it required to have one, said lead TSB investigator Ken Webster.
The TSB released new images of the wreckage on Friday, showing the mangled aircraft being taken to a facility in Richmond Hill for further analysis.
Khudoyor Ortikov told CityNews the man piloting the plane was his close friend Otabek Oblokulov and that Oblokulov’s wife and three kids, aged 16, 10 and 6, were also on the plane along with his brother-in-law and his wife.
Mehmet Basti, a Toronto college instructor, told local news outlets that the Oblokulovs had planned to stop in Kingston to visit his family and friends before proceeding to Quebec City for vacation. “We were waiting for their call when they landed. We waited a long time, so I searched on Google and this showed up,” he said, referring to the crash. He and Zack Balicki, another friend, went to the crash site Thursday.
The family of five were apparently visiting Canada from Texas for the American Thanksgiving.
A second person confirmed with the Canadian Press that Oblokulov and his family were on the plane.
“I’m shocked and I still can’t believe this happened, it’s a big loss for us,” said Ali Kodirov, who said he’s known Oblokulov since 2003, when he helped Kodirov settle in America after immigrating from Uzbekistan.
Kodirov who lives in Austin, Texas said Oblokulov was a Houston resident and part of the Uzbek community in the Texan city.
“He was a really nice family guy and very helpful to the community in Houston.”
Dana Atkinson, president of Anson Aviation in Sugar Land, Texas, said Oblokulov trained at his aviation school and was known to many people in the local aviation community.
“He was very friendly, very outgoing and well-liked,” said Atkinson, adding that his company helped Oblokulov buy his plane, identified by investigators as a Piper PA-32, so he could travel with his family.
“We’re all sad any time something like this happens.”
Atkinson said his company helped connect Oblokulov with a third-party seller to purchase the plane and performed routine oil changes on it.
Was weather a factor?
The cause of the crash is still under investigation, however local residents and police noted there was bad weather in the area at the time.
The TSB’s lead investigator, Ken Webster, says those conditions will be a part of the board’s probe.
Const. Ash Gutheinz of the Kingston police said the area was under a wind advisory at the time, calling the conditions “blustery.”
A spokesman for Canadian Forces Base Trenton, meanwhile, said a military helicopter dealt with high winds while it searched for the crash site.
Maj. Trevor Reid said the helicopter crew found the wreckage thanks to an emergency beacon on board the plane.
Residents in the area also noted there was heavy rain and strong winds around the time of the crash.
“I was amazed that anybody was even flying last night because there was lots of notice that this windstorm was coming,” said Rob Gibson, who lives near the site of the crash.
Gibson said in an interview he could hear a helicopter searching for the downed aircraft Wednesday night, but didn’t hear any sounds from the crash itself.
Moving forward the TSB says it will do the following in the coming days and weeks:
- examine data from electronic devices that may be found in the aircraft to help determine the sequence of events prior to the accident;
- gather and analyze weather information to understand to what extent weather was a factor;
- examine aircraft maintenance records, pilot training, qualifications and proficiency records;
- conduct follow-up interviews;
- review operational policies, procedures and regulatory requirements;
- examine previous occurrences involving this type of aircraft and subsequent safety action taken in Canada, the United States and other jurisdictions.