EOIN ENGLISH, NIAMH GRIFFIN, GREG MURPHY AND VIVENNE CLARKE
Aircrash investigator Jurgen White has said his team of investigators were waiting to speak with the pilot and passengers of the light aircraft that crash-landed on a Wexford beach on Thursday afternoon.
Mr White told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland: “We will be talking to An Garda Síochána today in the hope that we can speak to the pilot and the passengers on board when they’re able to speak to us.
“Obviously the information from the pilot is going to be crucial to determine what type of technical issue he had and also the examination of the aircraft will tell us what condition the aircraft was in before the emergency took place.”
Four people were rescued after the plane crash-landed and the pilot’s “skill-factor” has been praised as crucial in averting further injury. The aircraft was guided onto the narrow beach, avoiding nearby wind turbines and the open water.
Shortly after 5pm yesterday, the French-registered Vulcanair P68 twin-engine aircraft ran into difficulties close to Carnsore Point.
Minutes later, at 5.10pm, the aircraft landed on the beach.
It appears to have rolled for some distance before hitting an area of soft sand, bedding down, and pitching violently forward, nose first into the sand. The cockpit area suffered extensive structural damage.
The four occupants of the aircraft – two men in their 20s and 50s and two women in their 30s – were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Two coast guard helicopters, Rescue 117 based in Waterford and Rescue 116 based in Dublin, were deployed, along with Dunmore East RNLI, and the local coast guard ground unit, to support the rescue efforts. The Carnsore-Rosslare Coast Guard unit also attended, with gardaí and the National Ambulance Service providing assistance.
Pilot of the search and rescue helicopter 117 Barry O’ Connor said the aircraft was in the sand when they arrived.
Aviation sources credited the pilot for getting the stricken aircraft safely on the ground.
“This pilot was faced with a serious technical issue which presented an immediate threat to the safety of the aircraft and the passengers,” the source said.
“The aircraft was over water and the pilot was obviously faced with a problem that required getting the aircraft on the ground as quickly as possible. It doesn’t look like they had time to get to an airport.
“The pilot appears to have done a great job by avoiding coming down on the water, and also avoiding large wind turbines which are close to the beach.”
The Department of Transport’s Air Accident Investigation Unit yesterday dispatched a three-person team of inspectors to investigate the incident.
Their focus last night was on securing the aircraft, which had been partially submerged by the incoming tide and, today they will turn their attention to identifying the source of the technical fault which led to the forced landing.
Their lines of inquiry will include an examination of the aircraft’s fuel system and its engines.
The team of investigators spent most of yesterday evening securing the aircraft and recovering it from the water line on the beach, Mr White said.
“The aircraft has been taken to higher ground, that was done earlier this morning – at 9 am our team will be back in situ to start to dismantle the aircraft and prepare it for transport back to our facility in Gormanston, Co Meath, where we will conduct further examinations on the aircraft itself.”
Mr White explained that the pilot obviously “had a difficulty and made the decision that he had to do an off-field forced landing and obviously the nearest location for him, he made a successful landing albeit once the aircraft would have made contact with the shale surface of the beach there would have been a sudden deceleration and obviously that’s where some of the injuries were incurred by the people on board.”
The aircraft was conducting a marine wildlife survey just off the coast when it ran into difficulty.
Mr White added it was still unknown exactly whether it was an engine problem or a control problem that led to the accident.
“Pilots would be trained in general terms to conduct forced landings and to fly aircraft on single engines and do forced landings – it’s a thing they would be familiar with, but credit to the pilot, obviously under difficult circumstances he was trying to get back to land and he did get to the beach area and the only unfortunate thing from the pilot’s point of view was the surface condition on the beach – if you drive a car on the beach, it can get stuck, it’s no different to an aircraft, soft ground, the wheels will dig in and the aircraft will decelerate fairly quickly and that appears to have happened in this regard.”