Cause of Sandbanks wing walker plane crash revealed by report

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch has published its report into why, during Bournemouth Air Festival in 2021, an aerobatic wing walker plane lost power and dramatically ditched in Poole Harbour just a short distance from the Sandbanks Ferry.

Fortunately the plane from the company AeroSuperBatics avoided all the boats in the harbour as it flipped over in the water and miraculously both the pilot and the wing walker were able to safely escape from the sinking Boeing A75N1 Stearman. The incident happened near to the Haven Hotel at the mouth of the harbour on Saturday 4th September 2022.

Faulty oil pipe

The faulty oil inlet pipe pictured in the AAIB report

A faulty oil inlet pipe

Now a report published by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) on Thursday 20th October 2022 has concluded that the cause was a faulty oil inlet pipe which prevented oil being supplied to the engine.

The AAIB report concludes:

“While performing an aerobatic wing walking display over the sea at Bournemouth Air Festival, the aircraft experienced a reduction in engine power. The pilot stopped the routine and flew the aircraft west, while the wing walker returned to her seat in the front cockpit.

“The engine subsequently experienced a complete loss of power and the pilot ditched in the entrance of Poole Harbour. The aircraft flipped over on contact with the water, but both the pilot and the wing walker were able to exit the aircraft unaided.

“The investigation found that the loss of engine power was due to a failure of the oil inlet pipe most likely due to fatigue, which prevented oil being supplied to the engine. This was precipitated by a fatigue failure of the metal strap which supported the weight of the oil inlet pipe.

“The fatigue failure was initiated at an area of mechanical damage on the surface of the support strap, which had been caused by over-tightening of the retaining nut.

“Following this accident, the operator introduced additional hand signals to enable the wing walker to inform the pilot of any oil or fuel leaks and for the pilot to inform the walker that he intended to ditch.”

The wingwalker planes pictured earlier in the flying display

In the report it says that there was oil staining on the underside of the N707TJ (white aircraft) fuselage during the flight before the incident

wingwalker plane half submerged in the sea
Alex Cason

The plane shortly after the crash

AeroSuperBatics performed at the Swanage Carnival in 2019

The team were from the aerobatic formation wing walking company, AeroSuperBatics, that performed at the Swanage Carnival in 2019.

After the incident, the pilot was praised for his skill in ditching the plane, which despite horrifying onlookers, resulted in no serious physical injuries.

In the report it’s revealed that he was intending to make an emergency landing on some open fields in Studland when, “the engine produced
a loud mechanical noise, vibrated violently, and suffered a significant loss of power.”

The scene where the plane crashed near Sandbanks Ferry
Swanage Coastguard

It happened outside the Haven Hotel close to the Sandbanks Ferry that suspended its service while rescuers rushed to the aid of the pilot and wing walker

“It was very terrifying to watch”

Speaking at the time to the BBC, eyewitness Alex Cason from Surrey said:

“Just above the rocks, I saw this plane very low and I just sort of stood there in shock really – it was descending.

“I couldn’t stop looking at the pilot’s face – he looked in real shock… a few seconds later, 10 metres in front of me, the plane crashes.

“The plane’s nose hit the water, it flipped over, and then the pilot and passenger were under water for 10 seconds and luckily there was a rib nearby and they came over.

“It was very terrifying to watch, the lady was screaming… I didn’t know what to do, I just stood there in shock… Terrifying situation to witness”

Poole RNLI go to the aid of wingwalker and pilot
RNLI/Poole Lifeboat

Poole RNLI arrive to help, along with Dorset Marine Police

Poole Lifeboat check over the casualties
RNLI/Poole Lifeboat

Poole Lifeboat crew check over the casualties, being kept warm in the Sea Start boat

Family in an inflatable dingy were first to go to the rescue

First on the scene was a small inflatable dinghy that was able to get close to the half submerged plane and help the pilot and the wing walker. Footage filmed at the scene records a woman screaming as both the man and woman swim to the dinghy before being hauled into it.

The marine breakdown service, Sea Start crew were also quick to respond and transferred the pair to the safety of their larger boat.

Close behind was Poole RNLI crew who checked the man and woman for injuries, which were fortunately, minor.

Swanage Coastguard also attended and took witness statements and checked for fuel pollution.

The Bournemouth Air Festival was cancelled for the rest of that day but resumed the following morning.

Further information

Watch the film of the crash

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