Widow praises air crash report

JONO GALUSZKA AND TALIA SHADWELL
Last updated 12:57 23/01/2013

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The widow of one of the men who died in a plane crash in Feilding has praised investigators after they ruled the accident was caused by a mechanical fault rather than pilot error.

Radius Medical-The Palms managing director and pilot Ralph Saxe died alongside his friend, chiropractor Brett Ireland, when the Yak-52 plane he was flying crashed at Timona Park a year ago today.

Dr Saxe's widow, Joanne Saxe, welcomed the release of a Civil Aviation Authority report into the crash, that found a loose screwdriver lodged into the elevator control of the plane left him unable to pull up after completing a slow roll.

Mrs Saxe hoped the recommendations made in the report, compiled by safety investigator Alan Moselen, would help prevent similar tragedies.

Since the crash, all New Zealand Yak aircraft owners had been told to inspect their planes for loose objects, and were advised to install a barrier in the rear of their planes to help prevent objects getting into the control mechanism.

The report brought ''timely'' closure on the anniversary of her husband's death and she praised its findings.

''It's nice that it is finally out and that everybody has access to it,'' she said. ''I think the CAA has done a very, very thorough job.

''I'm delighted at the recommendations from the CAA, that they have recommended to put in a barrier between the cockpit and the tail of the plane. I think for the CAA to recommend and take that on so readily has been marvellous.''

She had not yet spoken to Mr Ireland's widow, Janine, who lives in Australia, but said the two had made plans to talk after the report's release.

''My thoughts go out to Janine and family in Australia because she is also feeling this hard time.

The report found the fault caused the plane to go into a steep dive before crashing into the park.

The plane hit the ground so hard its nose, engine and wings ''virtually disintegrated'' upon impact. It is believed the screwdriver lodged into a part of the elevator controls during the slow roll, jamming the elevation control of the plane.

The screwdriver was covered in rust, meaning it could have been undetected in the plane for some time before jamming the controls, the report says. It outlined other instances around the world in which items had become stuck in plane controls, including a cellphone, camera lens and radio knob.

On one occasion, a New Zealand pilot had a roll of duct tape jam in the elevator controls while the plane was upside down.

Mr Moselen told the Manawatu Standard it was a design issue of the Yak-52, but it was hard to say if it was a concern in other aircraft.

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Non-aerobatic planes were not built for going upside down, so this issue may not be accounted for, he said.

Mr Moselen said finding out what had happened had enabled the CAA to make important safety changes.

Dr Saxe's plane did not have a barrier installed in the rear of the plane, despite the British CAA code - which he followed for the maintenance of his Yak - recommending it.

The report says Dr Saxe may have thought the plane already had a barrier installed, or that he simply missed that part of the safety code.

Feilding Aerodrome president Bruce Brownlie said Dr Saxe was extremely careful about the safety of his aircraft.

''There are various levels of [safety awareness], and he was at the higher levels.''

The crash had an instant effect on users of the aerodrome, he said.

''Sometimes you can get a bit haphazard about things - it's just human nature.

''There is no doubt this raised awareness considerably. It has ensured people will take that extra caution.''

The death of Dr Saxe will be marked today with a charity event at The Palms. 

Dr Saxe's former wife, Philnie Evans, had worked at The Palms with him, and was among the organisers of today's event. She said colleagues from as far as Napier would join family and friends to mark a year since the crash.

The day would begin with a traditional Maori memorial ceremony, followed by a sausage sizzle fundraiser and a second-hand clothing sale, to raise money for a dementia care group supported by the Red Cross.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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