A father of three who died when the microlight he was piloting collided with one of two wooden poles supporting electrical power lines did not realise he was fly so close to them, an aviation report has found.
Richard “Dick” O’ Connell, 51, from Rathcash East, Gowran Cross, Co Kilkenny died when his two-seater glider crashed about 200 yards from his home around 9pm on Friday last.
The father-of-three teenage children, one boy and two girls, who was a highly respected builder and stone mason, was flying close to his home and an airplane hangar, while his daughter celebrated her 18th birthday party on June 28, last year.
The Air Accident Investigation Unit report found that the pilot, Mr O’Connell was initially observed to operate the microlight at low altitude to the north of a nearby airstrip, before continuing at low altitude in the vicinity of the hangar.
The microlight was airborne for three to four minutes before the accident occurred at 8.30pm.
Mr O’Connell had flown the microlight earlier that day and reported no problems when he spoke with the registered owner later by phone.
That flight, which lasted approximately 15 minutes, took place between 4pm and 4.30pm.
The microlight, which was kept fully rigged, had been removed from the hangar earlier that day to allow the space to be used for a family function. Later that evening, Mr O’Connell decided to fly the microlight again.
Witnesses reported that the pilot was manoeuvring at low level to the north of the R702 road leading to the village of Gowran, Co Kilkenny before proceeding in the direction of the hangar.
The microlight was observed pitching and banking somewhat erratically before turning and colliding with one of two poles supporting high-voltage power lines.
The report states that the AAIU, “On the evening of the accident flight, the pilot (Mr O’Connell) chose to operate at very low level.
“While operating at a low altitude with the distraction of being observed by persons on the ground, it is probable that the pilot did not realise the close proximity of the power lines and the supporting poles.
“Although it appears that he reduced power in an attempt to avoid a collision, it was not possible to manoeuvre the microlight in the time available. The pilot was fatally injured on impact.”
The AAIU said it is satisfied that the microlight was manoeuvring under full control when observed by witnesses and was not experiencing any difficulty.
“It is probable that the pilot was simply manoeuvring the aircraft in pitch and roll to familiarise himself, as, prior to the earlier flight he had not flown for several months.
“The adjacent power lines should not have posed a significant hazard to flying operations during take-off and landing, as the power lines run obliquely to the landing strip with sufficient lateral separation.
“However, the risk of collision increased once the microlight began to operate at low level.” The report found that Mr O’Connell had not flown the microlight for several months and that his flying licence had expired.
The report revealed that although the Pilot was the holder of a NPPL (A) issued by the UK CAA with a Microlight Aeroplanes (Landplanes) this rating expired on October, 28 2008 without renewal.
The pilot’s experience was estimated solely from the amount of flying the owner stated that he thought the pilot had completed.
Prior to the day of the accident, the pilot had last flown sometime late the previous year, possibly around September.
The pilot did not keep a record of his flight hours, nor did he undertake any flights with an Instructor, nor any skill test to renew his licence to operate microlight aircraft.
At the time of the accident, the pilot was not properly licensed nor was he current regarding any recent flying.
The report added: “Although the microlight had not been maintained in accordance with recommended procedures and the volatility of the fuel used had deteriorated, the investigation is of the opinion that no defects on the part of the microlight, its engine or fuel supply contributed directly to the accident”.
Four witnesses to the crash gave evidence to the Investigation Unit with one stating that Mr O’Connell waved at him in recognition just minutes before the crash. Another witness said he first noticed the microlight flying at low level “going up and down along the ditch line” to the west of the airstrip.
He parked his car for a few moments and saw the microlight pass behind him heading to the north. He lost sight of it when it went behind trees.
When he observed it again, the microlight was crossing back across the road in front of him, heading south towards the hangar located on the airstrip. He described that “when it came into our vision it seemed out of control”.
As it crossed in front of him he estimated that it was about “50 to 60 feet” above the ground. “It started swaying and bobbing in the sky, left and right. I thought he recovered it as it went straight for 30-40 yards”.