Neither of the pilots involved in a fatal mid-air crash over rural west Ottawa last November saw the other’s plane, according to a federal agency’s investigation.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released its findings Thursday into the Nov. 4, 2018, collision near the Carp Airport between a Cessna 150 and a Piper Cheyenne.
The unidentified pilot of the Cessna 150 was killed in the crash, while the two people aboard the Piper Cheyenne survived. They were able to land safety at the Ottawa International Airport.
Both pilots, the TSB said, were operating under what’s known as “visual flight rules” — in other words, they were relying on their senses rather than their instruments to spot other planes, since conditions were so clear.
However, the shortcomings of that approach — in particular, the visual limitations posed by the positioning of the two planes’ wings — led to the crash, the TSB said.
“Neither pilot saw the other aircraft in time to avoid a mid-air collision,” the agency said in its report. “Relying solely on visual detection increases the risk of collision while in uncontrolled airspace.”
Wing torn off
The crash happened roughly 2.5 kilometres south of the Carp Airport, approximately 420 metres above sea level, in what the TSB called “clear conditions and good visibility.”
According to their findings, the Piper Cheyenne was on its way back to the airport following tests on its ventilation system when it was struck at 10:10 a.m. by the Cessna 150.
The impact was so severe that the Cessna’s left wing was torn off and the plane “entered a steep dive with no possibility of recovery,” the report said.
The Cessna was destroyed by the impact and subsequent fire, the TSB said. Its pilot was pronounced dead at the scene.
The Piper Cheyenne also sustained “substantial” damage but was able to land safely. Neither the passenger nor the pilot were injured, the TSB said.
Following the crash, a recording posted on LiveATC.net, a website that hosts feeds of air traffic control audio, suggested the Cessna 150 struck the Piper Cheyenne from below.
“Somebody ran into the bottom of me,” one of the people on board the Piper Cheyenne said. “Someone hit the bottom side of my aircraft.”
According to the TSB’s findings, the Cessna’s left wing made contact with the Piper Cheyenne’s extended right main wheel assembly, damaging the Piper’s landing gear, fuselage, rudder and left-side flap.
“Although the damage was substantial, none of it critically affected the aircraft’s primary flight controls,” the report said.
Wing configuration a ‘challenge’
After the crash, former TSB investigator Larry Vance told CBC News that a “high-wing” aircraft like a Cessna 150 restricts a pilot’s ability to see directly above, while a “low-wing” aircraft like a Piper Cheyenne makes it harder for its pilot to see what’s going on beneath them.
In its report, the TSB echoed that assessment.
“Wing configuration and the altitude of each aircraft in relation to the other may have created a challenge for the pilots to detect potential threats,” the TSB said.
“[They] would have created an obstruction for both pilots and made direct visual detection of the other aircraft difficult.”
The TSB also said the Piper Cheyenne broadcasted its intentions over radio three times prior to the crash, but there was no evidence the Cessna 150 pilot was doing the same.
Neither of the aircraft had a flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder, neither of which are mandatory.
The Piper Cheyenne pilot had logged more than 10,000 flight hours, the TSB said, while the Cessna pilot had roughly 1,000 hours in the air.
Neither were impaired or overly tired at the time of the crash, the TSB said.