Eyewitnesses to an incident where a helicopter cruised at low level in thick fog across a popular Co Kerry beach have questioned why the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) is not pursuing it further.
Video footage of the incident shows the helicopter — EC (Eurocopter) 155 — flying through fog along the shoreline at around 10m (33 ft) with no lights, against aviation rules.
“Someone could have been killed, and we are just lucky that we got out of the way in time,” John Jeffers, one of the witnesses who filmed the incident late last month, has said.
Mr Jeffers and his wife Kathleen from Ardfert, Co Kerry, were walking their two dogs along nearby Banna strand at around 6.30pm on August 27.
The couple had decided to leave the beach due to the fog when they heard a roaring sound which they described as “louder than a tractor”.
“As it got louder, and the ground seemed to vibrate, we quickly realised that it was heading in our path,” Mr Jeffers said.
“As soon as I knew we were out of harm, I grabbed my phoned and filmed it,” he said.
“It was very low, and the sand was blowing everywhere, and I can only assume it was using the edge of the water to navigate, hoping the fog might lift eventually.”
The aircraft flew south over the beach’s main carpark from Ballyheigue in the direction of Barrow. A number of people in the carpark nearby also witnessed the incident.
“It was so close to us that Kathleen could see the sole pilot in the cockpit,” Mr Jeffers said.
An aviation expert who viewed the video said that it was an “extremely dangerous manoeuvre”, where the aircraft was clearly cruising and using the shoreline to navigate in fog.
“Aircraft must have navigation lights on, as in green and red on each side and a white tail light, and a flashing anti-collision light at all times,” the expert, who did not wish to be named, said.
“The video footage clearly shows no lights, against aviation rules,” he said. The registration of the aircraft was not visible on the footage.
The IAA, which is the State regulator on aviation, said the “footage in question” was reported through the European Co-ordination centre for Accident and Incident Reporting Systems, a European aviation safety portal.
“As the competent authority, the IAA has investigated the occurrence, and engaged with the operator of the helicopter to ensure that the safety of the public was not compromised in the normal course of operations,” an IAA spokesman said.
“We are satisfied that the helicopter was operated in an appropriate manner under the unexpected conditions encountered,” the spokesman said, confirming the investigation had “closed” late this week.
The Jeffers toldthey were not contacted by any investigation team and expressed surprise that the investigation had closed so early.
“I am glad we survived it, and no one got hurt, but it could have ended up very badly if there had been more people on the beach,” John Jeffers said.
“An explanation and an apology to beach users be the least that could happen — if there is a points system on a pilot’s license, this was a six-pointer.”
The IAA did not respond when asked to comment further.
The EC 155 is a twin-engine aircraft that can carry up to 13 passengers, along with crew, and was developed for civil aviation use.