A small plane that crashed in northern Ontario last month with two fugitives on board was not licensed for chartered flights, Transport Canada says.
Both the pilot and the private company owning the Piper PA-28 Cherokee did not have the valid certificate required to fly paying customers, the agency told Global News Thursday.
“We can confirm that Abhinav Handa and A&T Flights Inc. do not have a valid air operator certificate,” a Transport Canada spokesperson said.
Transport Canada said it was made aware in December 2021 that a private pilot in British Columbia was advertising flights on a plane that wasn’t registered for commercial use.
Handa was identified by the Ontario Provincial Police as the pilot of the plane that crashed near Sioux Lookout, Ont., late last month that had three other men on board – including two men wanted in connection with murders.
Several investigations are ongoing to figure out how Gene Karl Lahrkamp, 36, and Duncan Bailey, 37, got on that plane and how it went down.
Sometime between April 29 and 30, the small plane carrying the four people was flying to Marathon, Ont., from Dryden, Ont., when it crashed in the Kukukus Lake area between Ignace and Sioux Lookout.
The search for the Piper PA-28 Cherokee began near Sioux Lookout around 4:30 a.m. on April 30 after officials were notified about an overdue flight the day before, said David Lavallee, a public affairs officer with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Rescuers were able to zero in on the plane’s emergency locator transponder. The crash site was discovered later that day in a “remote and … hard to access” area southeast of Sioux Lookout, which is about 450 kilometres east of Winnipeg.
The Ontario Provincial Police started its investigation shortly after the wreckage was discovered to identify the passengers. The other man on that flight was Hankun Hong, 27, of Richmond, B.C.
The Vancouver Sun reported last week that Hong and Handa were both pilots. Neither of the men had any criminal history in B.C.
Lahrkamp, meanwhile, 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.
Bailey was wanted for failing to comply with bail conditions in connection with a targeted shooting in Vancouver on Oct. 6, 2020.
Azam Azami, a flight instructor based in Chilliwack, B.C., told The Canadian Press this week he reported an online ad posted by Handa to Transport Canada in December, more than four months before the same plane in the ad went down.
When Azami noticed the image of a plane posted on Facebook Marketplace was not usually used for commercial purposes, he searched it in a public database and found it was privately licensed, he said.
Handa shared an image of his commercial pilot’s licence with him, but Azami said the plane would’ve needed to be registered for commercial use before he could take on paying passengers.
Azami’s report on Dec. 7, 2021, to Transport Canada includes screengrabs of the ads Handa allegedly posted as well as a transcript of the messages they exchanged.
Azami initially pretended to be an interested customer to gather more information about the flight services and Handa’s qualifications, he said.
During their conversation on Facebook Messenger, Handa said passengers and pilots on board would be insured and the plane was maintained up to Transport Canada’s standards. He said charters to anywhere in Canada cost $300 an hour per person, and the plane had capacity for two to three passengers.
Handa shared a copy of his redacted licence, showing a commercial pilot licence designation for small and multi-engine land aircraft. But that certification type would’ve allowed him to work for hire with either an approved airline or on a commercially registered aircraft, not a privately registered one, Azami said.
“Under Canadian Aviation Regulation 401.26, an individual holding a private pilot’s license can only be the pilot-in-command or co-pilot of an aeroplane of a class and type in respect to which the license is endorsed. An individual that holds a commercial pilot license may engage in providing a commercial air service by means of an aeroplane of a class and type in respect to which the license is endorsed,” Transport Canada told Global News.
“In addition, to carry passengers for hire or reward, an individual or company must apply to Transport Canada for an air operator certificate (AOC) in accordance with subpart 703 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations. Once the AOC is issued, the air operator then has to apply for a domestic license to operate an air transport service between points in Canada with the Canadian Transportation Agency.”
The crash remains under investigation by the Transportation Safety Board and the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit – British Columbia’s anti-gang unit.
With files from The Canadian Press