The high-speed crash that nearly killed Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond was probably caused by a nail in the tyre which safety experts failed to spot, an official BBC report revealed today.
There was a "distinct possibility" that a check of the tyres between earlier practice runs could have identified the danger. The report concluded that an "inability to spot the damage to the tyre" was the underlying cause of the accident.
The crash happened in September last year while Hammond was driving a Vampire, a jet-powered modified drag racer capable of reaching speeds of nearly 300mph. The television presenter survived the crash at Elvington airfield, near York.
Hammond was on his fourth run when the front offside tyre suffered a "catastrophic disintegration". A penetrating object such as a nail, probably picked up during one of the practice runs, punctured the side wall of the tyre.
The BBC's 88-page report said Primetime Landspeed Engineering (PLE), the company which supplied the Vampire, had sole responsibility for the car's safety, but it criticised the Top Gear team for having no "assurance system" to ensure PLE's safety checks had been correctly carried out.
The report said of the crash: "The indirect cause was the inability to spot the damage to the tyre, possibly due to either the lack of an adequate checking procedure or inadequate implementation of the procedure by PLE as the 'experts' with sole responsibility for the safety of the car; and to a much lesser extent Top Gear not having an assurance system to ensure that the safety checks were being performed on the day."
Evidence as to whether the safety checks were conducted "to an appropriate standard" were inconclusive, but the report did suggest that " the provisional opinion of the tyre expert, pending further information from PLE, [was] that a detailed examination of each tyre immediately following each run is likely to have revealed the area of weakness on the front off side tyre.
"It is also a distinct possibility that examination of the tyres between earlier runs should/could have identified the presence of the penetrating object which the tyre expert believes led to the failure of the tyre.
"The Top Gear team . . . did not have anyone with sufficient knowledge to assess the adequacy of the checks made by PLE on the day of the shoot."
However the report did praise Top Gear's production team for some areas of good practice, including a decision to drop the original idea of attempting a land speed record because it would have put Hammond at even greater risk.
In June this year, the Health and Safety Executive identified failings in the BBC's safety management systems concluding that the crash was caused by the failure of the Vampire’s front offside tyre at 288mph.