Just after 4.30pm emergency services received a call from a member of the public who had spotted that a small plane from the Ormand Flying Club was descending rapidly towards the ground.
Gardaí confirmed that at 4.50pm they were informed all contact had been lost between air traffic control and the aircraft.
It had been flying south, having just taken off from Birr airfield. It is believed the aircraft suffered engine difficulty and was struggling to gain height.
The pilot tried to turn around and get the plane back to the airfield but was unable to do so.
A search involving the Garda airport unit and other emergency services was immediately mounted.
At about 6.30pm the wreckage of the Cessna light training aircraft was discovered at Clonkelly Upper, which is some 3km from the airfield.
When they got to the site they found the two male occupants, an instructor, named locally as Roscrea native Niall Doherty and a student in his 20s, named locally as Damien Deegan and from the area, critically injured onboard the plane, registered EI-AST. They were declared dead a short time later.
The Department of Transport’s air accident investigation unit was summoned from Dublin.
It arrived at the scene at 9.30pm last night and began to look for clues as to the exact cause of the accident.
The Ormand Flying Club placed a message on its Facebook page which read: “A very sad day for the Ormand Flying Club having lost two of our friends.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with both families tonight.”
The page was also inundated with messages of sympathy from people who had heard about the tragedy, including a number from fellow flying clubs.
One poster wrote: “Our thoughts, prayers and condolences this evening go to Niall & Damien’s families and also to the all the members and families of the Ormond Flying Club....RIP.”