Cause of engine failure undetermined in fatal Carp Airport crash: TSB report

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada suggests a pilot may have crashed while attempting a high-risk manoeuvre to return to safety due to engine issues, according to its final report released Thursday.

Neil Spriggs crashed his plane in a wooded area near Carp Airport in February

Neil Spriggs, 59, died when he crashed his plane in a wooded area near the Carp Airport in February. (Submitted by Alastair Spriggs)

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) says it could not determine why a pilot reported an engine issue moments before his plane crashed near the Carp Airport, but says he may have lost control while attempting a high-risk manoeuvre to return back to safety.

Neil Spriggs, a 59-year-old from Ottawa's rural Kinburn area, died on Feb. 10 in a small airplane crash in a wooded area near the Carp Airport.

At the time, police said Spriggs, who was alone in the Blackshape BS100, was found dead at the scene.

In its report released Thursday, the TSB says Spriggs began conducting "touch-and-go" circuits at the airport at about 12:49 p.m. The first two circuits were described as "normal," then Spriggs climbed straight into his third circuit.

That's when Spriggs made a radio call reporting "an unspecified engine issue." 

At about 1 p.m., when the plane was about 240 metres south of the runway and still turning left, the pilot lost control and the plane "entered a near-vertical descent" into a wooded area, the report states.

Though the TSB couldn't determine the exact altitude when Spriggs lost control, investigators estimate it happened less than 168 metres above ground. They also estimate the descent rate was between 4,000 and 6,000 feet per minute when the plane struck the ground.

"The aircraft was destroyed by a post-impact fire, and no signal was received from the 406 MHz emergency locator transmitter," the report reads.

This is a photo of the Blackshape BS100 aircraft involved in the Feb. 10, 2021 crash at the Carp Airport, provided by the TSB in its report released Thursday. (N. Horn/TSB)

Unable to determine engine issue

Though equipped with a ballistic rescue parachute system, TSB says examination of the wreckage suggested the emergency rescue system wasn't activated by the pilot. Due to the wreckage, investigators couldn't determine the flap position at the time of the crash.

There were no problems reported with the flight control system, and the landing gear was in the down position at the time of the crash, it said.

The engine, which was significantly damaged by impact and fire, was disassembled and examined at a lab in Ottawa. The TSB could not find any mechanical failures of any of the major engine parts. 

The reason for pilot's reported engine issue could not be determined.- Transportation Safety Board report

"There were no signs of catastrophic engine failure," the report said. "The investigation was unable to assess the integrity of the associated engine components such as the fuel and ignition systems due to the extent of heat damage.

"The reason for pilot's reported engine issue could not be determined."

The TSB says its investigation suggests Spriggs may have attempted to turn back to the runway after reporting the engine issue, shortly after being airborne for the third circuit. 

He conducted a low-altitude left turn, and the report states numerous fatal accidents have occurred in the past involving pilots trying to turn back to the runway or aerodrome following engine failure after takeoff. 

"Given the aircraft's low altitude and low airspeed during the initial climb, turn-back manoeuvres during this phase of flight involve a high level of risk and often lead to a loss of control and collision with terrain."

The TSB's map shows the aircraft’s circuits and the accident site. (Google Earth/TSB annotations)

Weather 'suitable,' pilot had right licence

The weather during that mid-winter Wednesday morning was "suitable" for flight under visual flight rules, the TSB says. 

The agency also notes Spriggs held a commercial pilot licence — aeroplane, a pilot licence — glider, and a pilot permit — gyroplane. That means he held the appropriate licence and medical certificate for the flight. 

Spriggs had about 766 total flying hours and about 70 of those were on the Blackshape aircraft — which got its flight test certificate in Italy in 2015 and was owned by Spriggs since August 2019. The aircraft itself had about 65 hours of air time before the crash.

Its last annual inspection was conducted in the month prior to the crash.

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