‘Special challenges’ complicate TSB probe into fatal mid-air collision in west Ottawa

Click to play video: 'TSB provides investigation update on fatal mid-air collision in west Ottawa'
TSB provides investigation update on fatal mid-air collision in west Ottawa
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada held a press conference on Tuesday to update the public on the investigation into Sunday's fatal mid-air collision in rural west Ottawa – Nov 6, 2018

Investigators with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) stressed to media on Tuesday that the agency faces “special challenges” in its investigation of a mid-air collision between two planes that occurred Sunday morning near the Carp Airport in west Ottawa.

Two small aircraft, a Piper PA-42 Cheyenne III and a Cessna-150, hit each other mid-air at approximately 10:10 a.m. that day.

READ MORE: 1 dead after two small planes collide in Ottawa

One of the Cessna’s wings was “partially severed” and the plane then lost control and crashed, killing its pilot, investigators said in an update to media on Tuesday morning. The Piper, which carried a pilot and a family member, sustained “significant” damage to its back half but landed safely at the Ottawa airport.

A senior investigator with the TSB said it’s “still too early” to say how long the agency’s investigation will take but that it hopes to publish a report within a year or so.

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“The TSB will take the time it needs to complete a thorough investigation,” Beverley Harvey said. “However, should we discover safety deficiencies that present an immediate risk, we will communicate them without delay.”

The Transportation Safety Board is an independent agency that investigates certain transportation accidents and advocates for changes that will make Canada’s transportation systems safer.

Investigators said on Tuesday that accidents like the one on Sunday morning are quite rare. Sunday’s crash marked the 10th mid-air collision in Canada in the past decade, they said.

One dead after two planes collide in Ottawa
Click to play video: '1 dead after 2 planes collide in Ottawa'
1 dead after 2 planes collide in Ottawa

There are some things the TSB does know about Sunday’s plane crash. Investigators have determined the Piper was arriving at the Carp airport, but they’re not yet sure about the Cessna’s circumstances. The weather conditions were also relatively good at the time, they said; it was a sunny Sunday morning with few clouds in the sky.

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The investigative process is made trickier by the fact that neither of the planes were equipped with – and were not required to be equipped with – a cockpit voice recorder or a flight data recorder.

“Without voice recorders, we don’t know what was happening inside the cockpit,” Harvey explained.

Because of this, the TSB will have to rely on audio and radar data from Nav Canada and an analysis of the aircrafts’ damage to get “a more precise picture” of where exactly the two planes collided and how they were positioned when they struck.

READ MORE: Pilot seriously injured after small plane crashes in Ottawa’s west end

Investigators have to consider a lot of other factors, like the angle of the sun that morning or whether there was anything that could have prevented the pilots from seeing each other.

Assessing what the pilots could see from their seats is “critical,” Harvey said. Visibility can be affected by the structure of the plane and the cockpit, the size of the aircraft’s windows, the position of the wings and the height of the pilot’s seat.

Both planes were within the Carp Airport’s traffic pattern, Harvey said, and so investigators will also be examining the small airport’s procedures and regulations for landings, takeoffs and circuits.

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There’s no control tower at the Carp Airport directing planes flying in and out of its airspace, so it’s up to pilots to communicate with each other.

“It’s like coming to a four-way street and drivers know who turns right first, who goes straight through,” Harvey explained after the media conference. “There’s rules and procedures in place. … So that’s what Carp is like.

“Just because it’s called an uncontrolled air zone does not means it’s uncontrolled. It’s very, very structured.”

The Cessna was brought into the TSB’s engineering lab in Ottawa for examination, while the Piper is stationed and being investigated close by, near the Ottawa airport. The TSB said both aircraft are only accessible to the agency’s investigative team at this time.

An investigator with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada examines a Piper PA-42 involved in a mid-air collision in west Ottawa on Sunday morning. This photo was taken sometime after the aircraft landed at the Ottawa International Airport. Transportation Safety Board

Both planes were based at the Carp Airport, Harvey said.

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The Piper sustained damage to its aft fuselage, rudder, wings and main landing gear but neither of the Piper’s two passengers were injured in the incident, investigators confirmed on Tuesday.

The pilot of the Cessna who died has not been identified.

“I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of the pilot who
lost his life this past Sunday,” Harvey said.

— With files from Rahul Kalvapalle

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