Monday, October 17, 2016

Piper PA-28-161 Warrior II, St Catharines Flying Club, C-GYSN: Fatal accident occurred October 16, 2016 in Austin, Potter County, Pennsylvania

National Transportation Safety Board - Aviation Accident Preliminary Report:

FAA Flight Standards District Office: FAA Harrisburg FSDO-13

NTSB Identification: ERA17FA017

14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, October 16, 2016 in Austin, PA
Aircraft: PIPER PA28, registration: C-GYSN
Injuries: 3 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On October 16, 2016, about 1958 eastern daylight time, a Piper PA-28-161, Canadian registration C-GYSN, collided with trees near Austin, Pennsylvania. The commercial pilot, and two occupants were fatally injured, and the airplane was destroyed. The airplane was registered to and operated by St. Catharines Flying Club, under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91, as a personal flight. Instrument meteorological conditions prevailed and an instrument flight rules flight plan was filed. The flight originated from Richmond International Airport (RIC), Richmond, Virginia, about 1654, and was destined for St. Catharines/Niagara District Airport (CYSN), St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada.

According to preliminary air traffic control information, after takeoff the flight proceeded towards the destination while remaining in contact with several air traffic facilities, as appropriate. About 1933, an occupant contacted the Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZOB) and advised the controller the flight was at 6,000 feet mean sea level. The pilot was provided an altimeter setting of 30.04 inches of Mercury which was correctly read back. The flight continued and at 1944, the pilot was advised of moderate precipitation to the left and right of the airplane's current flight track, and in 20 miles, another area of moderate to heavy precipitation. He was also advised there were no "ride reports;" there was no reply from the pilot. At 1945, the ZOB controller advised the pilot of moderate precipitation in the vicinity of the airplane's position and if deviation was necessary, to please advise. An occupant responded that they would deviate by turning left about 20 degrees. About 1957, the ZOB controller attempted to establish contact with the accident pilot. She observed the flight turning to the south and asked if there was any issue; there was no reply. The airplane was lost from radar about 1958.

Federal Aviation Administration personnel alerted local authorities who initiated a search. The wreckage was subsequently located by a Pennsylvania State Police helicopter during an aerial search on October 17, 2016. Initial examination of the wreckage revealed that it came to rest in a heavily wooded area and was highly fragmented.

Those who may have information that might be relevant to the National Transportation Safety Board investigation may contact them by email,  and any friends and family who want to contact investigators about the accident should email

Dr. Yousif Tawfig, left, and son Rifat Tawfig, right, are pictured in this undated photo. 

Rifat Tawfig spent his life giving back to others.

In his death, the family and friends of the 25-year-old Niagara Falls man have come together to honour him by continuing that legacy.

Tawfig, an instructor with St. Catharines Flying Club, was one of three young men from Niagara who died in an Oct. 16 plane crash in mountainous northern Pennsylvania.

Also killed were students Ben Jeffries, 19, of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Corey Mijac, 18, of St. Catharines.

The trio was returning from a trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., with the St. Catharines Flying Club when the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration lost radio contact with the plane.

Wreckage of the aircraft, a small Piper PA-28 Cherokee, was discovered by search-and-rescue crews the following day.

After news of the tragedy broke, a GoFundMe campaign was created by one of Tawfig’s close friends to see a well built in his name in Sudan, where his family is originally from.

In only two days, the online fundraiser received enough support to surpass its $10,000 goal.

The target has since been increased to $15,000, which as of Wednesday afternoon was only $150 shy of being achieved.

Ahmed Daoud, a longtime friend of Tawfig, said their families have been close since both moved to Canada from Sudan in the early 1990s.

He was always moved by Tawfig’s willingness to help others and to do what he could to contribute to the close-knit Sudanese community.

“He was just a great guy. If anybody needed a ride, even if he was going the opposite way, he would take them,” Daoud said. “He would never say no.

“He always put people ahead of himself.”

As a child, Tawfig had an unabashed love for planes.

“When he was younger, he always wanted to be a pilot,” Daoud recalled.

It was through Daoud’s father, a former pilot, that he got his first introduction to the world of flight.

He would often come asking for advice about potential paths to take that would lead to him becoming a commercial pilot for a large airline.

It was as a result of those discussions with Daoud’s father that Tawfig pursued a position as a flight instructor with the St. Catharines Flying Club.

With about 400 flying hours under his belt, he hoped to accumulate enough time in the sky to achieve his dream of working for Saudi Arabian Airlines.

His parents, while originally from Sudan, are currently living in the Middle Eastern nation.

It was Tawfig’s sense of adventure that Daoud believes drew him to aviation.

That dream didn’t come without hesitancy from his parents, who had hoped he’d take a path similar to his father and pursue a career in medicine.

But those concerns were cast aside when they realized Tawfig was not only happy, but also quite skilled at being behind an aircraft’s controls.

Tawfig and his mother were extremely close, Daoud said.

“Every time he flies, he calls her.”

The day of the crash was no exception.

When the aircraft made a routine fuel stop in Richmond, Va., Tawfig made sure to pick up the phone and dial his mother.

“He said, “Mom, just pray for me. There’s some bad weather in the area. Pray for me that everything will be OK,” Daoud said.

When his mother learned sometime later that Tawfig’s plane had disappeared from radar, she immediately booked a flight to the U.S.

The crash is being investigated by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

Daoud said the family, including Tawfig’s parents and three sisters, has been “trying to hold up,” but is understandably having a hard time coping with the loss.

“He was so close to his family. Everybody, they were proud of him. His dad was really proud of him.”

The Sudanese community, members of the local mosque in St. Catharines and members of the flying club have been a strong source of support, he said.

Condolences, as well as donations, have poured into the GoFundMe page in Tawfig’s name, created by close friend Mawia Janoudy.

On the website, Janoudy, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment, describes Tawfig as “one of the most patient and considerate people I have ever known.”

He reminisced about experiences the pair had shared over the years, and about how they said their future children would someday play together.

“You died doing the job that you love,” Janoudy wrote. “I’m proud to have grown alongside such a gentle and patient soul.”

“Let us strive to be better people in Rifat’s memory.”

The money will be used to build a 45-metre deep well capable of supporting 1,000 families with water daily for the next 15 years. It will be built by Muslim Aid, a U.K.-based charity.

Funds exceeding the initial goal will be used to support other well projects in Ghana, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

To donate to the GoFundMe page, visit

A funeral service was held for Tawfig at the St. Catharines mosque on Geneva Street Wednesday, followed by a burial at the Islamic Cemetery on Yokom Road in Niagara Falls.

Services were also held Wednesday for Jeffries and Mijac at George Darte Funeral Home in St. Catharines.

In a statement provided by Daoud, Tawfig’s family extended gratitude to Niagara Regional Police, the Sudanese-Canadian community in Niagara, Sudanese Community Association of Ontario, Islamic Society of St. Catharines and the St. Catharines Flying Club for their concern and support.

The family also “send out their deep condolences to the families of the other two young men,” he said.


The victims of a St. Catharines Flying Club which crashed Sunday while en route to Niagara have been identified as (left to right) Corey Mijac, 18, of St. Catharines; Benjamin Jeffries, 19, of Niagara-on-the-Lake; and Rifat Tawig, 25, of Niagara Falls.

AUSTIN, Pa. — Pennsylvania state police say three men from the Niagara Region died in the crash of a small plane that lost contact with flight controllers as it was flying from Virginia to Ontario.

The Federal Aviation Administration says the Piper PA-28 took off Sunday from Richmond International Airport and was headed to St. Catharines/Niagara District Airport.

Potter County coroner Kevin J. Dusenbury Sr. says the wreckage was found late Monday in Keating Township.

The victims have been identified as Rifat Tawig, 25, of Niagara Falls, Benjamin Jeffries, 19, of Niagara-on-the-Lake, and 18-year-old Corey Mijac of St. Catharines.

Tawig was a Class 4 flight instructor with the St. Catharines Flying Club, a certified flight training unit and one of the oldest flying clubs in Canada.

Mijac and Jeffries, meanwhile, are graduates of Governor Simcoe Secondary School. Mijac graduated just this past June, while Jeffries graduated the year before.

District School Board of Niagara communications officer Brett Sweeney said students at the school were aware of the crash, and that rumours were swirling throughout the day about the identity of the victims. Staff were asked to keep an eye out for any students who knew them.

"We want to make sure those students are OK and offer support where we can," he said. "It's such a tragic loss. It's always a tragedy when young people have their lives cut short."

Conrad Hatcher, an instructor with the flying club who worked daily with Tawig since he joined earlier this year, described the young man with a 6-foot 5 inch-frame as a "gentle giant" and someone who was pursuing a career in aviation.

"He looked forward to someday flying for an airline," he said. "He was a very nice guy, easy to work with."

Hatcher described the mood around the small, tight-knit group as sombre, explaining that some of their younger members have never lost anyone before.

The FAA said it lost contact with the flight over Potter County at about 7 p.m. Sunday.

Emergency dispatchers in nearby McKean County say they were contacted by the FAA after the aircraft changed course to avoid a thunderstorm. They lost radio contact with the plane when it was near the mountainous, remote area of Keating Summit.

The Civil Air Patrol released information Monday afternoon concerning the aircraft, prompting a search near Route 155 in Keating Township. McKean and Potter county emergency officials were joined by volunteer fire departments, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania State Police.

Police described the site where the single-engine plane crashed as "extremely rugged, steep and wooded" and extended several hundred metres through the woods.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the FAA are investigating, police said.

The  Piper PA-28-161 Warrior II that crashed in the woods of northern Pennsylvania Sunday night, killing three people, was carrying a flight instructor and two students on their way back to their Canadian flying school after a stopover in Richmond to refuel.

Conrad Hatcher, a flight instructor and spokesman for the St. Catharines Flying Club in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, said the instructor, Rifat Tawfig, 25, of Niagara Falls, and his two students, Corey Mijac, 18, of St. Catharines, and Ben Jeffries, 19, of Niagara-on-the-Lake, were on their way back from a trip to Myrtle Beach, SC.

"The purpose was to give them some experience flying out of their home airport," Hatcher said, adding that the small school of six airplanes and about as many instructors was stunned by the deaths. "This is not anything that anyone here now has ever dealt with. Of course, a lot of sadness. When you're small tight-knit group it cuts both ways. When it's good it's good. When something like this happens it's really difficult."

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash scene near Liberty, Pa., about 115 miles north of Harrisburg, documenting the wreckage and interviewing witnesses.

"We're still in the very early stages of this investigation," said NTSB spokesman Terry Williams.

The Federal Aviation Administration lost contact with the plane, which was trailing another identical aircraft from the school, at about 7 p.m. Sunday night. It was found Monday after a search by local authorities that was hampered by the darkness and bad weather, the flying school said in a news release. The other plane landed safely at Niagara District Airport.

"There's a lot more that we don't know," Hatcher said. "We don't have any solid reason why this would have happened."

Hatcher described Tawfig, who was born in Toronto, as affable and a "gentle soul."

"When we say somebody's a nice guy, it's often overused. But he really was," Hatcher said. "People liked him and his students liked him. I used to call him the gentle giant because he was about 6 foot 5."

Mijac had done the Canadian equivalent of a work-study program or internship, called a co-op, at the flying school, and was "passionate about aviation," artistic and athletic, Hatcher said.

"One of those kids who was more likely to smile than frown," he added.

Jeffries worked in his family's restaurant business and got introduced to the flying school through his father, who also learned to fly there, Hatcher said, and was getting serious about flying, including a potential career in aviation.

"We're in shock here," Hatcher said. "We don't have a lot of answers but we will get through it."


State police have released the names of those killed in a plane crash in Keating Township. 

Rifat Tawig, 25; Cory Mijac, 18; and Benjamin Jeffries, 19; all of Ontario, Canada, were pronounced dead by Potter County Coroner Kevin Dusenbury. The plane wreckage was found by state police helicopter around 3:30 p.m. Monday.  

The PSP report says of the location of the wreckage in Keating Township, "The terrain at the crash site is extremely rugged, steep and wooded. The crash site extends for several hundred yards through the woods."

The report also says PSP has no further information or involvement in the investigation other than maintaining the scene security. 

UPDATE: Oct. 18, 10:14 a.m.

Potter County Coroner Kevin Dusenbury has confirmed three deaths in the plane crash in Keating Summit.

Authorities from several agencies worked searching for the plane from Sunday evening when contact was lost, to Monday evening, when it was found within the search area in Keating Summit. Three occupants were reported on board the single-engine aircraft, which was traveling from Richmond, Va., to Ontario, Canada. 

Dusenbury said he was called to the scene Monday evening, where he pronounced all three occupants of the plane dead. He said they were young people from Canada. 

"I'm not releasing any names, as I'm still working on notifying the families," he told the Potter Leader-Enterprise. "This is very, very tragic. It's a very sad situation." 

Dusenbury said many agencies were still on scene, and the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating. 

UPDATE: Oct.17, 9:53 p.m.

According to Andrew Johnson, Public Information officer for the Civil Air Patrol, the downed plane has been located within the search area near Keating Summit. Johnson did not have an exact location of the plane, or the condition of its three passengers. 

Johnson said because the plane has been located, State Police out of Coudersport have taken over command. When called, a representative from the state police barracks had no comment on the incident. 

For more info on the incident, see the press release below, and check back for more updates as they become available. 

UPDATE: Oct. 17, 2:49 p.m. 

The Civil Air Patrol distributed the following press release to the Potter Leader-Enterprise at the scene of command for a possible downed plane in the area: 

"Numerous local and state agencies are working today to locate an aircraft which was reported overdue last evening after failing to arrive at its destination in Saint Catharines, Ontario, Canada

According to initial reports, the Federal Aviation Administration in Cleveland Center contacted the McKean County 911 Center last evening after they lost radar and radio contact with a small aircraft near Keating Summit, Pa. The single engine Piper Cherokee airplane was flying from Richmond (VA) International Airport in Virginia to St. Catharines Airport with three people on board when it changed course to avoid a thunderstorm. After the aircraft changed course, all contact with the aircraft was lost. Area fire departments and search and rescue teams combed the woods in the area for hours last night into early morning before regrouping to begin gain after daylight. 

The Civil Air Patrol has now taken command of the operation and they are joined by numerous local resources from Potter, McKean, Cameron and Elk counties. 

Regular briefing will occur throughout the operations as more information becomes available."

Original post: Oct. 17, 12:23 p.m. 

Emergency responders from Potter and McKean counties are currently searching for a possible downed aircraft. Scanner reports first came in just before 10 p.m. Sunday for a land rescue due to a possible downed aircraft, reportedly with three people on board. 

According to Potter County Emergency Services, as of 12:30 p.m. today, the search is focused in the Keating Township area of Route 155. Dean Predmore, Training & Operations Manager for Potter County Emergency Services, is stationed at Austin Fire Department. Several Potter and McKean fire departments and emergency personal have responded for the search, as well as DCNR and the Civil Air Patrol. 

A representative with the Potter Emergency Services office said a press release will be sent to media later today. When asked if reports of a downed aircraft are valid, a representative from the office said, "I can't say yes or no. Those are the reports." 


BUFFALO (WKBW) - Authorities in Pennsylvania say they have found a small plane that had been missing since Sunday night . The McKean County Sheriff's Office confirms that search teams found the aircraft in Potter County on Monday night. 

No further details were released including the status of the plane or the three passengers who were onboard. 

Search crews had been looking for the Piper PA-28-161 Warrior II since aviation officials lost contact with the plane on Sunday night. The aircraft was flying from Richmond, Virginia to St. Catharines, Ontario when it changed course to avoid a thunderstorm. The last signal officials had from the plane came near Keating Summit, Pennsylvania. 


RICHMOND, Va. – A missing single-engine plane that departed from Richmond International Airport on Sunday afternoon en route to Ontario, Canada has been found in Potter County, Pennsylvania Monday night, according to CNN affiliate WKBW in Buffalo.

No further details were released including the status of the plane or the three passengers who were on-board.

The plane owned by St. Catharines Flying Club reportedly changed course to avoid a thunderstorm. After the change of course, the FAA lost contact with the plane near Potter County, Pennsylvania at 6:58 pm.

The Piper PA-28-161 Warrior II airplane reportedly had three people on board, according to Buffalo station WKBW.

The search for the missing plane focused in the areas of Potter, McKean, Cameron and Elk Counties just south of the New York state line in northwestern Pennsylvania.

The FAA released a statement concerning the missing plane that read:

“The FAA lost radar contact near Potter County, PA with a Piper PA28 that was enroute from Richmond International Airport to St Catherine/Niagara District Airport, Canada October 16 at 6:58 pm. The FAA issued a notice to air traffic facilities, pilots and airports to report to the FAA if they locate the aircraft. Local authorities are also conducting a search for the aircraft. This statement will be updated when more information becomes available.”


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