A friend of the pilot who was killed in an air crash on Saturday evening and who witnessed the aftermath said yesterday no one could have survived the impact, which occurred just minutes after take-off.
Investigators are gathering evidence from a large crash site close to the Co Waterford coastline in an attempt to find out why a light aircraft crashed on Saturday night, killing well-known pilot Howard Cox who was due to take part in the Foynes Air Show.
It is believed Mr Cox, 67, was killed instantly when his BD5, described as a “home-built mini jet” and of a type used in a James Bond film in the 1980s, crashed in a field north of Dungarvan at about 6.45pm on Saturday.
Mr Cox, a married father of one from Devon in England, was a regular visitor to Ireland and took part in many events here over the years. His aircraft was based at Waterford Aero Club’s hangar in Killowen, outside Waterford city, and he took part in last year’s inaugural Foynes Air Show in Co Limerick.
He also took part in the Shannon Air Display event held last weekend to celebrate 70 years of commercial air traffic from Shannon.
He was on his way to Shannon on Saturday when the tragedy happened after he took off at 6.35pm. His friend, Gerry Humphreys, another experienced pilot and a director of the Foynes Air Show, was travelling behind him and took off about five minutes later.
“As I left, the guy in the tower said he [Howard] was coming back with a fire,” he said. “I moved out of the way and, as I looked ahead, I could see what appeared to be the impact.”
Mr Humphreys flew towards the impact site and made a mayday call, but quickly realised the extent of the tragedy.
“It looked as if it was fatal. I couldn’t see how anyone could survive it,” said Mr Humphreys.
It is believed Mr Cox had become aware of a technical problem, reportedly a fire, on his plane minutes after he took off and made a mayday call to air traffic control in Shannon.
He attempted to turn back to land at Waterford Airport but crashed in the Garranbane area.
Emergency services were quickly at the scene but the pilot was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.
Mr Humphreys described Mr Cox as “a really talented guy” and “a wonderful aviator and engineer” who worked as a marine engineer for many years.
“The airplane he was flying was his life’s passion, really. He started building it in college in the 1970s.”
A team of four investigators was despatched by the Air Accident Investigation Unit after the crash and arrived on the scene after 9pm on Saturday.
They allowed Mr Cox’s remains to be removed from the crash site, to be taken to Waterford Regional Hospital for a post-mortem examination, but could not do much else on Saturday night as darkness fell.
Wreckage of the aircraft was thrown over about one acre, and investigators and gardaí preserved the site overnight to begin collecting evidence and examining the scene yesterday morning. Initial indications pointed to a fire on the aircraft.
It is understood the AAIU have impounded emergency call tapes from both Shannon and Waterford to establish the nature of Mr Cox’s last call to air traffic control and if he himself knew the nature of the problem with his aircraft.
Mr Cox, an experienced pilot and aircraft engineer, had been working on the BD5 for many years. It was powered by a twin rotor, 110hp engine.
Mr Cox’s craft was the only one of its type in use in Europe in recent times and the same as a BD5 used in the James Bond film, Octopussy, in the mid-1980s.
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