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White Waltham pilot likely 'incapacitated' before fatal crash

George Roberts

White Waltham pilot likely 'incapacitated' before fatal crash

Emily Collett. Photo courtesy of British Aerobatics.

A White Waltham pilot may have become ‘incapacitated’ due to an undiagnosed heart condition before a fatal crash that killed her and a student pilot in 2019, a report has found.

An investigation into the air crash that killed the popular and talented pilot Emily Collett, 36, and her student, 30-year-old Tom Castle, has been conducted by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch.

Mrs Collett and Mr Castle flew out of White Waltham airfield on August 24, 2019, on an acrobatics training exercise, before coming down near Stonor in Oxfordshire.

The investigation was unable to find a ‘definitive’ cause of the crash, but stated that it was ‘likely’ Mrs Collett became incapacitated when the plane entered a spin and that Mr Castle was not able to recover the aircraft in time.

A post-mortem examination of Mrs Collett found that she had a significant undiagnosed heart condition. While it did not appear that she had suffered a heart attack in the air, the investigation found it was possible she suffered a sudden cardiac ‘alteration’ which would have led to her collapsing without warning.

Although Mr Castle was a qualified pilot who was trained to recover an aircraft from a spin, he only had approximately 17 to 44 seconds to do so. He would have had even less time if he had tried to re-establish contact with Mrs Collett before taking over the controls.

The plane, a Pitts S-2A, also had an issue with its centre of gravity, which would have made it harder to stabilise following a spin.

The report states: “It is likely that the commander was incapacitated by an undiagnosed cardiac condition while conducting a spinning exercise, though it is unlikely that such an incapacitation would impede the controls and prevent recovery action by the student.

“The evidence of the witnesses and the ground marks indicate that the aircraft was still in a spin, and both pilots were fatally injured when it struck the ground.

“A loss of communication between the pilots could have delayed recognition of the situation.

“It is also possible that a combination of any or all of disorientation, startle, surprise, confusion or panic prevented the student from taking effective recovery actions in the limited time available.”

Mrs Collett was an accomplished and decorated pilot, and ran flight aerobatics classes and experiences for Ultimate Aerobatics, based at White Waltham airfield.

She took part in the Advanced European Aerobatics Championships twice and was crowned the 2016 British National Champion.

She had also taught former Countdown host Carol Vorderman to fly and do a ‘loop-the-loop’ manoeuvre for BBC’s The One Show.

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