Pedal Jam May Have Caused Cruse Crash

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A rudder pedal jam may have led to the fatal crash of former U.S. Aerobatics Champion Vicki Cruse during qualifying for the world championships in England last year. The British Air Accidents Investigations Branch says it also can't rule out pilot incapacitation as a contributing factor in the accident. The AAIB report (PDF) says Cruse added rudder pedal extensions to the Edge 540 she was borrowing for the competition. A post-crash examination revealed that the left extension could have ended up in a position that would have prevented the pilot from fully removing left rudder once it had been applied. A video of the accident indicates some degree of left rudder (pro-rotational) being applied after the aircraft failed to recover from a snap roll and continued rolling as it descended vertically from 2,300 feet to the ground. The AAIB also noted that Cruse's head was tilted to the left during the crash sequence, suggesting her "ability to recognize or respond to the situation had somehow become impaired" either because she was looking down at her left foot or she was unconscious.

The maneuver involved a vertical climb with a pushover at the top followed by the snap roll, and is not a high-G move. Much of the AAIB analysis focuses on the rudder pedal and the extensions, which Cruse also used on her own Edge 540. The investigators found that there were circumstances under which the rudder pedal could be jammed when the extensions were in place and that the pilot wouldn't be able to push hard enough to free it. The only way to remedy the situation would have been to adjust the extension's position on the pedal to free it up.