Screwdriver caused fatal plane crash - report

Last updated 14:03 22/01/2013

FATAL INCIDENT: A re-enactment of the screwdriver's positioning before the crash.

Feilding air crash
HIGH SPEED CRASH: The two-seater Yakovlev-52 aircraft belonging to Ralph Saxe that crashed, killing the Palmerston North doctor and his friend, former Manawatu chiropractor Brett Ireland, inset.

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A loose screwdriver that became jammed in the side of a plane as it was doing aerobatics over Feilding caused a crash that killed a Palmerston North doctor and his friend.

A Civil Aviation Authority report into the crash - which claimed the lives of plane owner and pilot Ralph Saxe, 51, and his friend Brett Ireland, 50 - was released today, almost a year to the day after the 2012 crash at 10.45am on January 23.

Hours after crash 'a blur' - widow

The report, written by safety investigator Alan Moselen, found the crash was the result of design flaws in the plane that led to a screwdriver getting stuck in the elevator controls of the plane during a "slow roll" manoeuvre.

As Saxe, a member of Warbirds, entered a steep dive immediately following the slow roll he was unable to get the elevation needed to prevent the plane from slamming into the ground in Timona Park, Feilding.

The forces were so strong that the aircraft nose, engine and wings "created deep ground scars then virtually disintegrated".

The crash was not survivable.

Three witnesses to the crash were flying model aircraft at the park when the aircraft passed within 50 metres of them, moments before ground impact.

The plane rolled to the right in the moments before impact, and the report states this was probably a result of Saxe trying to "avoid a line of houses situated on the western side of the park".

In investigating the crash the CAA found a "stubby" type screwdriver 15 metres from the main impact site, which the report says could have been sitting in the fuselage of the plane for a long period of time.

It is not the first time rogue objects have become jammed in Yak 52 aircraft elevator controls.

In Essex in 2004 a UK pilot managed to recover from a aerobatic manoevre after a cellphone left in the aircraft two months earlier had penetrated a safety barrier and lodged itself in the elevator.

Saxe's Yak 52 did not have a safety barrier installed.

In March 2012, as a result of the crash, the CAA issued a mandate for Yak 52 owners to fit a barrier.

They also called on all Yak 52 operators worldwide to check for loose objects in the fuselage before flying.

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- Manawatu Standard


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