Pilot error led to helicopter’s car park crash

A HELICOPTER which crashed and exploded into flames in a busy seaside town was too big for the car park the pilot was trying to “squeeze it into,” a district court judge was told yesterday.

The pilot, William Curry, admitted it was “an error of poor judgment,” in deciding to land the Sikorsky S76B in the car park of the Neptune Hotel, in Bettystown, Co Meath, on September 18, 2008.

Judge Flann Brennan said it was “a miracle he survived this incident and that nobody else was killed or injured.”

As he imposed a €5,000 fine and a jail term of three months which he suspended, Judge Brennan added he found it “staggering” that Curry had seen a Land Rover and a woman and a child in the car park but went on to land in “a decision that seems to have been incredibly reckless.”

It was “reckless beyond belief and I have to take the most serious view that I possibly can,” he added.

Drogheda District Court heard from two experts with the Irish Aviation Authority which brought the prosecution against Curry, aged 35, who has an address in Riverside Crescent, Kilcullen, Co Kildare, but is now running a helicopter pilot training business in Portugal.

Captain Paul Gingell from the IAA investigation team said the field of debris from the burnt-out helicopter was found up to 70 metres away. The hotel car park faces onto the main street in Bettystown.

The aircraft was registered in the US to Barrack Aviation and had flown to Bettystown with two passengers on board. It landed on Bettystown beach and the passengers got out.

When a crowd of people gathered to look at the helicopter, Curry decided to try and land elsewhere and was given permission to land in the hotel car park.

While attempting to do this one of the rotor blades struck a street light in the car park, damaging the helicopter, and when it got to the ground, it went on fire and exploded.

Curry pleaded guilty to three offences – flying in a reckless manner so as to endanger life or property, flying in a congested area in a manner so that a safe landing could not be made if there was a power failure, and landing where there was undue hazard to people or property.

His pilot’s licence was suspended by IAA until he met requirements on extra training and practical and theoretical knowledge. It has since been restored.

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