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Pilot disorientation may have caused a plane crash in 2015 that killed a prominent couple from Tillsonburg, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada says.
The board released a report of its investigation into the crash Nov. 9, 2015, near the Parry Sound airport that killed Jane and Phil Esseltine.
The couple owned and ran Agrospray, a company started by Jane Esseltine’s father. Described by a relative as “centrepieces” of the community, they served on community boards and also volunteered.
The couple was flying back in a clear sky at night to Tillsonburg from a weekend at their cottage near Parry Sound. The Transportation Safety Board said the couple would often commute to their cottage in a single-engine light aircraft manufactured in 1965.
The plane departed the Parry Sound Municipal Airport at 7:17 p.m., and as soon as the plane became airborne at 7:25 p.m., it began climbing and turning right.
The plane began to descend at 7:26 p.m. while continuing the right turn. Shortly after, the GPS system stopped and the aircraft collided with the ground.
“The aircraft clipped trees in a nose-down attitude with a significant angle of bank to the right before striking the ground on a rocky downward slope,” the report said.
Investigators probed plane wreckage that remained after the impact and a subsequent fire, the agency said. The examination didn’t identify any failure or system malfunction before the crash, the report said.
Phil Esseltine would have needed to rely on ambient light or cultural lighting, such as lights from cottages or streetlights, to provide visual references to control the aircraft, the agency said.
“Once the airport lighting was lost from view, there would have been few visual cues available outside the aircraft,” the report said. “There were not many lit ground features on the flight path, particularly to the west of the airport in the direction of the turn… after takeoff, visual references would have been greatly reduced, and the pilot would have found himself in a black hole situation.”
The board said it’s not known if the right turn Phil esseltine was making was intentional, adding he didn’t detect the increasing bank of the turn and subsequent descent in time to prevent the collision.
“The pilot, who was probably not proficient at flying with reference to the instruments, may have become spatially disoriented after losing visual reference to the surface off the departure end of the runway and lost control of the aircraft,” the report said.
The full report can be found online at www.tsb.gc.ca.
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