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Engine failure caused fatal plane crash at Wolferton, says investigation report

Light aircraft which came down at Wolferton. Photo: Air Accidents Investigation Branch.. (3519286)
Light aircraft which came down at Wolferton. Photo: Air Accidents Investigation Branch.. (3519286)

A light aircraft which crashed on part of the Queen's Sandringham estate, killing both people on board, had not been properly maintained, an investigation has found.

Nigel Dodds, who was 58, and his passenger Valerie Barnes, 73, died when the Piper aircraft they were travelling in came down at Wolferton last September.

An air accident investigation report, published this morning, concluded: "The accident was likely the result of the aircraft stalling at a low height from which there was insufficient height to recover, during an attempted forced landing following a catastrophic engine failure.

"The engine failure was due to oil loss caused by damage and premature wear to the oil control rings.

"The engine had been inactive for several months, and probably had not been inhibited in accordance with the manufacturers guidance, leading to the formation of corrosion within the engine."

The crash happened around 45 minutes after the plane took off from London Southend Airport, bound for Newcastle, on the morning of September 11, 2017.

Mr Dodds had landed there the previous day, diverting there while flying back from Menorca because of inclement weather.

While flying over the Wash, Mr Dodds transmitted a distress signal, saying he had a "very rough running engine" and was going to turn back towards RAF Marham.

A short time later, he told air traffic controllers: "Engine has failed."

Although they suggested he try to land at either Marham or the Great Massingham Airfield, Mr Dodds said he did not believe he would get to either location, adding: "It's gonna be a field." Radar contact was lost 30 seconds later.

Post-mortem examinations concluded that both Mr Dodds and Ms Barnes had died from multiple injuries sustained in the crash.

Although the plane had undergone an annual maintenance inspection in March last year, the report raised concerns over how it had been looked after before that.

The report said: "Between November 2015 and July 2016 the aircraft was parked outside at Newcastle International Airport, nine miles from the sea and in inclement weather conditions.

"There is no evidence that the engine had been inhibited during the aircraft’s period of inactivity and it is likely that corrosion took hold during this period."

It said that, even though a maintenance inspection had taken place, there is no requirement for internal engine surfaces to be checked, meaning it was likely the corrosion had not been detected.

The report also revealed that repairs had been made to the plane's landing gear while it was in Menorca, following a problem during an earlier landing in France. On that occasion, Mr Dodds landed safely, before flying on to Menorca.

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