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Loss of control on approach caused fatal South River air crash

Observers who had aviation experience reported that during the latter stages of the final approach, the aircraft’s nose-down pitch attitude increased, and its airspeed and rate of descent were faster than a normal approach for a Mooney M20J aircraft

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) today released its investigation report into an airplane crash that killed two women last fall at the South River- Sundridge Airpark.

It concluded a loss of control of the aircraft caused it to bounce three times on the runway before crashing into a bush area.

"Observers who had aviation experience reported that during the latter stages of the final approach, the aircraft’s nose-down pitch attitude increased, and its airspeed and rate of descent were faster than a normal approach for a Mooney M20J aircraft," says the report. "During the initial flare, the aircraft ballooned into the air and then bounced three times on the runway surface."

Climbing during the initial round out is known as ballooning and increases the risk of entering an aerodynamic stall. If ballooning is excessive, the engine power should be applied for a go-around. Trying to salvage the landing increases the risk of the aircraft contacting the runway in an undesired attitude and causing it to bounce back into the air.

During the second bounce, the aircraft landed on its nose wheel and wheelbarrowed momentarily before becoming airborne.

"During the third bounce, it was reported that the aircraft bounced approximately 15 feet into the air and appeared to have lost a significant amount of airspeed and momentum."

At this point, approximately 700 feet of the runway remained.

"The pilot initiated a go-around after the 3rd bounce and retracted the landing gear. As the aircraft slowly climbed and cleared some smaller trees located approximately 250 feet from the departure end of the runway, it was reported to be moving slowly and not accelerating. The aircraft then disappeared from view and, shortly afterwards, crashed into a wooded area located approximately 1,300 feet from the end of Runway 30."

See the complete report here.

The crash occurred on September 16, 2021 and killed the owner-pilot Susan Begg, 73, from the Ottawa area, and Asti Livingston, 45, from Niagara-on-the-Lake. 

See: Family and friends 'devastated by the loss of these exceptionally talented women' following air crash

And: Two dead in South River plane crash

The two friends were preparing to land for the next day’s start of the annual 2021 Gold Cup Air Rally sponsored by The East Canada Section Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots. The group promotes the advancement of aviation through education, scholarships, and mutual support and shares a passion for flight.

The TSB is an independent agency that investigates air, marine, pipeline, and rail transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.

The flight started normally early that afternoon from the Toronto/Buttonville Municipal Airport.

After takeoff, the aircraft climbed to cruise altitude and at approximately 2:47, flew over the Airpark and then turned for the approach to Runway 30.

Four minutes later eyewitnesses contacted emergency services, including the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre (JRCC), in Trenton to report the accident.

The JRCC contacted a Royal Canadian Air Force CH-146 Griffon helicopter, which was already airborne and flying toward the region of Trois-Rivières, Quebec, with the search and rescue mission. The Griffon was diverted toward the crash site. A Royal Canadian Air Force CC-130H Hercules also based in Trenton, was also sent to the scene.

Local first responders were called and began conducting a ground search.

"Both occupants were found wearing their safety belts with shoulder harnesses," says the report. "The passenger was fatally injured. The pilot received critical injuries and was transported to hospital by air ambulance, but died before arrival at the hospital."

The on-site examination of the accident site determined that the right wing initially hit a large tree and a large portion of the wing separated from the aircraft. The aircraft subsequently rolled to the right and struck other trees before hitting the ground in an almost completely inverted position. The plane did not catch fire.

"The aircraft systems were examined to the degree possible, and no indication of a malfunction was found," concludes the report. "Damage to the propeller was consistent with power being produced at the time of impact, although the amount of power could not be determined. The throttle, mixture, and propeller controls were found in the full forward position."

The landing gear was found in the up and locked position. 

"The aircraft’s engine was significantly damaged by the impact. It was disassembled and examined at the TSB's regional facility in Richmond Hill, Ontario. There were no signs of catastrophic engine failure. All of the internal components were complete and intact and showed no signs of abnormal wear."

Small privately operated Canadian aircraft must be inspected at intervals not exceeding 12 months. The last annual inspection was completed just three months before the crash.

The Airpark is located approximately 32 nautical miles (62 kilometres) south of North Bay's airport.

The weather was mostly sunny with light winds and visibility was 30 statute miles.

"During the latter stages of the approach, when the aircraft’s nose-down pitch attitude reportedly increased, the aircraft’s rate of descent and airspeed likely increased as well, and the approach likely became unstable," concludes the report. 

"Although the aircraft was observed slowly climbing over the smaller trees at the end of the runway before disappearing from view, the investigation was unable to determine whether the airspeed decreased below a safe flying speed, resulting in an aerodynamic stall, or whether the aircraft impacted the trees during the climbout, resulting in a loss of control and impact with the ground.

"Often, landing accidents in general aviation are the result of a loss of control, usually in flight, but also on the ground following touchdown. Many landing accidents are a result of unstable approaches, or pilots not executing a timely go-around."

A go-around can become a very risky flight procedure if the pilot does not decide soon enough that a go-around is the best choice and delays making a decision until the situation has become critical.

"Unstable approaches can lead to landing accidents. Pilots are reminded to conduct a go-around as soon as they recognize that an approach has become unstable."

Asti Livingston's good friend Gail Bevilacqua told BayToday, "I have no words...just tears thinking of their final moments and how horrific it was for them...

"Asti's 'Why I Fly' makes me feel like she's among the stars . . . still. It's a comforting thought and that's where I'll choose to land this one."

(See our photo gallery)