Charity rowers who videoed a dramatic crash landing in the Irish Sea tonight spoke of their amazement at seeing the pilot clamber from the wreckage.
Owner John O’Shaughnessy was flying the two-seater home to Ireland after having work done on it in Wales when he ran into trouble.
He narrowly avoided disaster in a treacherous stretch of water a few miles off the Wexford coast after performing a so-called belly land.
The dramatic touchdown and Coast Guard rescue, near Tuskar Rock, was captured on video by fundraising ocean rowers on the British Orchid less than two miles away.
Mr O’Shaughnessy said he could not discuss the incident when contacted.
Oliver Dudley, part of the GBRow team, explained how they saw Mr O’Shaughnessy make a controlled landing in relatively flat sea and clamber from the cockpit onto the wing.
Their boat was caught in a fast moving rip-tide as they tried to reach him.
“We got pushed away from him. We thought ’we haven’t got a hope in hell of catching him’ but then the Coast Guard arrived,” Mr Dudley, 33, said.
“The main thing was trying to put his (Mr O’Shaughnessy’s) mind at ease that we’d seen him.
“We were expecting to see a dead person but to find someone alive after that was extraordinary.”
Mr O’Shaughnessy, believed to be in his 50s, was the only person on board the aircraft en route from Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire to an airfield run by the Society of Amateur Aircraft Constructors (SAAC), near Taghmon village in Co Wexford.
Dave Ryan, SAAC treasurer, said he did not know Mr O’Shaugnessy but said it was common for light aircraft to fly in from the UK.
It is understood the single propeller plane had been hangared in Haverfordwest before Mr O’Shaughnessy bought it.
He asked for some work to be carried out after the sale and yesterday it was returned to the airport, which serves commercial and private planes, after alterations.
The plane was delivered on a lorry and Mr O’Shaughnessy and another man folded down the wings and bolted them in place before he fuelled up and took off alone.
Mr O’Shaughnessy, who was treated for shock and hypothermia and discharged within a few hours of the crash-land, was forced to ditch in the sea about 15 minutes from his destination.
Mr Dudley added: “We could see the wreckage and the pilot standing on the wing of the plane waving his arms, so we rowed like a bat out of hell towards it.
“I could see the pilot had blood on his head and he shouted that the plane was sinking.
“We were in a treacherous stretch of water and could not get close enough so we chucked him a line but the helicopter arrived and winched him up.”
Officials from the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) are examining the wreckage.
Both wings were virtually intact, the nose cone had been ripped off and landing gear badly impacted.
Investigators will take detailed statements from Mr O’Shaughnessy and the rowers when they come into shore again.
Shortly after the crash, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transport, which oversees the AAIU, said: “We do not have any idea why it crashed at this point.”
It is believed Mr O’Shaughnessy managed to perform a so-called belly land, made famous by US Airlines pilot Chesley B “Sully” Sullenberger who safely landed in the ice cold Hudson River in New York in January. All 155 passengers that day were safely rescued.
Mr O’Shaughnessy had sent a Mayday message and the charity rowers, who are hoping to break a record for the fastest time taken to row around Britain, also raised the alarm and kept in phone contact with rescue teams as they rushed to the scene.
As the Coast Guard helicopter arrived at the crash site after 5pm the plane began to sink. The Sikorsky was returning to base at Waterford airport from a training mission with the Naval Service when the emergency call came through.
The Rosslare RNLI lifeboat, which was also at the scene within 28 minutes, stood by as Mr O’Shaughnessy was hoisted to safety by the rescue helicopter and then towed the craft to land at Carne beach.
Two Air Accident Investigation inspectors were sent to the scene to examine the aircraft. It is being inspected at the AAIU facility in Gormanstown, Co Meath but the cause of the crash is not expected to be known for several months.
The incident took place near the scene of Ireland’s worst ever aviation disaster. In 1968 Aer Lingus flight 712 crashed off Tuskar Rock with 61 passengers and crew on board.