Investigators focus on engine failure as likely cause of fatal plane crash

Engine failure is being investigated as the primary cause of a light aircraft crash which killed a flight instructor and a trainee pilot.

Niall Doherty and advanced learner Damien Deegan, both 31, died when the Cessna 150H came down in scrubland a short distance from Birr airfield, Co Offaly.

The friends had been flying circuits on Sunday afternoon, with the grass landing strip always in sight, when they crashed.

Local priest Fr Michael Reddin said Mr Deegan’s parents Michael and Brenda, brother Diarmuid, and sisters Davnet, Aine and Mhuire are shattered.

Mr Deegan, from the village of Crinkle near the airfield, was almost at the end of his pilot training and thought to be planning to get a commercial licence. He worked at Tesco in Birr.

Air accident investigators removed the crushed fuselage of the Cessna from anovergrown, boggy field in rough terrain after initial on-site inspections.

The wreckage could be seen upside down with the wheels in the air.

Instructor Mr Doherty had worked as a commercial pilot in the past and taught at the Ormand Flying Club. He also worked in the family hardware store in Roscrea, Co Tipperary.

Local councillor Denis Ryan said Mr Doherty’s family, parents Michael and Eileen, sister Eadaoin and brothers Gearoid and Antoin are popular in the town. “He was a responsible, friendly and outgoing young man,” he said.

Officials from the Department of Transport Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) will examine in detail the plane’s mechanics at their base in Grangegorman, Dublin.

Jurgen Whyte, AAIU chief, said: “The men were on an instructional flight. The Cessna is a workhorse of a training aircraft, well known around the world.”

Fr Reddin described Mr Deegan as a keen sportsman committed to helping others, his community and local organisations.

He was in the process of growing a Movember beard for charity.

“That’s just an insight to the type of chap he was. Always caring for other people and very social,” the priest said.

The Cessna 150H was used by the Ormand club as a training plane, and affectionately nicknamed The Crow.

Air traffic control at Shannon raised the alarm when the Cessna disappeared from radar screens shortly before 5pm.

Visual flight rules, which dictate when light aircraft should be grounded in each month of the year, are not believed to be an issue in the investigation.

The Cessna was first registered in 1968, but investigators stressed that age should not be seen as a reflection of air-worthiness.

The aircraft are not fitted with flight box recorders.

Mr Deegan’s funeral is planned for St Patrick’s Church in Birr at noon on Thursday and Mr Doherty’s is expected to be the following day at St Mary’s Church in Dunkerrin.

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