Gardaí have confirmed the bodies of four people – including two teenage boys – were tonight recovered from the wreckage of a UK-registered light aircraft in the Wicklow mountains.
The Piper PA-28 single engine plane was on its way from Gloucester in the UK to Co Kildare yesterday when it went missing.
The pilot, Sharif Booz, was travelling with his wife, Margaret, his son and his son’s friend when they dropped below radar in Co Wicklow, on the country’s east coast, around lunchtime.
Following a massive search operation, the wreckage of the aircraft was discovered by rescuers today in a remote region in the west of the county.
Jurgen Whyte, of the Irish Government’s Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU), said the bodies had to be dug out of the plane as its nose was embedded in the ground.
“The four bodies were dug out of the aircraft. They have been flown by helicopter to Naas Hospital,” Mr Whyte said.
“The priority was to get the bodies out before dark. We’ve now also pulled the aircraft out of the bog, about one third of it was embedded underground.”
It is understood Mr Booz, a property developer from Almondsbury in Bristol, was an experienced pilot.
A neighbour, who asked not to be named, said Mr Booz was a father-of-two who flew regularly.
The two boys were aged in their mid-teens.
Gardaí said family members arrived in Ireland from the UK this afternoon and post-mortem examinations will now be carried out on the bodies at Naas General Hospital.
According to the operator of Kilrush airfield Ian Valentine, Mr Booz used the landing strip usually twice a year to visit relatives in the near-by town of Newbridge, where it is understood his wife was from.
The private aeroplane left Gloucester Airport shortly before 10am yesterday morning bound for Kilrush.
While weather conditions over Ireland were unsettled, accident investigators refused to be drawn on whether that was the cause of the crash adding it was too early to tell.
Mr Valentine said he was not aware the plane was due to land at the strip until a relative of the pilot contacted him at around 6pm last night from Gloucester.
The airfield chief said he had received a text from Mr Booz earlier in the week to say he expected to come at the weekend.
But Mr Valentine said he would normally receive a call from him the morning he was due to arrive, yet that did not happen yesterday.
When the alarm was raised last night, the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) checked over its radar log and discovered the plane’s last known location was over the Wicklow mountains at around 12.30pm.
A spokeswoman said air traffic control at Dublin Airport had monitored the plane up until about ten minutes before this, when the pilot closed his flight plan.
While a preliminary search of the remote area was carried out last night, stormy conditions meant it was not until first light this morning that a major search got underway.
This involved gardai from the north Wicklow town of Bray, the Defence Forces, Coast Guard and mountain rescue personnel from Dublin, Wicklow, Tipperary and Northern Ireland.
By early morning the wreckage of the aircraft was found at Corriebracks, just south of Hollywood, in the west of the county.
Paramedics and gardai were airlifted to the remote, inaccessible spot followed some time later by teams from the Irish Government’s Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU).
Mr Whyte, chief inspector of Air Accidents, said the plane was being left at the scene overnight and AAIU investigators would return tomorrow.
“Obviously we’ll be looking at all aspects but we’ll be looking at the weather conditions in particular, obviously because I think everyone’s aware that the weather was quite bad yesterday,” he said.
“We’ll be interested to see the flight planning of the aircraft, the prevailing weather conditions at the time and also we’ll be examining the aircraft.”
Wicklow Dail deputy Billy Timmins tonight expressed his condolences to the families and paid tribute to the emergency services for their work.
“My sincerest sympathy goes to the family and friends of those involved in the plane crash which was discovered in the Wicklow Mountains this weekend. It is absolutely tragic that such an incident has happened,” he said.
“It is difficult to understand why such dreadful things happen.
“My sincere condolences go to the families of those involved, during what must be an extremely difficult time. May they find peace in coming to terms with these extremely harrowing turn of events.”