Blackstairs air crash inquest into pilot deaths

Verdicts of death by blunt force trauma returned by inquest jury

The wreckage of the crashed Cessna on the Carlow-Wexford border. Photograph: Dwane Doran

The wreckage of the crashed Cessna on the Carlow-Wexford border. Photograph: Dwane Doran


Verdicts of death by blunt force trauma have been returned by a jury at an inquest in Carlow into the deaths of a pilot and his passenger in a crash next Mount Leinster earlier this year.

Paul Smith (57), Rathmore, Athboy, Co Meath, and Bryan Keane (69), Williamstown, Kells, Co Meath, were killed on May 24th when their US-registered Cessna 182 aircraft crashed in the Blackstairs Mountains on the Carlow-Wexford border. Both victims were experienced pilots. Their two pet dogs also died in the crash.

The inquest at Carlow Courthouse heard the men were on their way to a private airfield in Taghmon, Co Wexford, when they crashed on a steep, rocky slope on the western side of a ridge extending south west from the Blackstairs summit. Weather conditions in the Blackstairs were described as misty and drizzly at the time.

In his preliminary crash report, Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) investigator Leo Murray said the Cessna left Ballyboy airfield in Co Meath at about 10 am on May 24th. A witness at the airfield saw the dogs being placed in their customary position in the aircraft’s rear cabin seats. Bernard Cullen, manager and owner of the airfield, said the flight had taken off with Mr Smith in the pilot’s seat while Mr Keane entered co-ordinates for the journey.

The flight proceeded in a southerly direction towards Athy, before taking a southeasterly course towards Taghmon. This course brought the aircraft to the south of Mount Leinster and towards rising terrain to the south of the summit of the Blackstairs.

No communications were recorded with an Air Traffic Control unit and no en-route airfield reported receiving a call from the aircraft.

The investigation report noted the wreckage was facing away from the initial impact point of the rising terrain. The main portion of the aircraft structure came to rest approximately 110m from the initial impact point. The engine was found 130m downhill from the main wreckage.

There were no general problems with cloud, visibility or weather but there would have been a risk of poor visibility and cloud conditions above 1,000 feet, due to condensation.

Hillwalker Larry Darcy from Co Wexford said it was his first time to walk in the Blackstairs. He had been walking for about two hours when he heard an aircraft. “It had a sharp sound. I knew by the sound it was low.”

Later, he saw a blue and white object on the Carlow side of the mountain. He then found the bodies of the two men and the dogs. Mr Darcy said he knew they were all dead.

Dr Fergus McSweeney conducted postmortems of both men at Waterford Regional Hospital the day after. He said Mr Keane suffered multiple external and internal injuries, including fractures and haemorrhages and damage to internal organs. He could not find any condition of underlying disease and there was no evidence of alcohol or drugs in his system.

Dr McSweeney outlined similar type injuries to Mr Smith who, he said, also displayed scarring of the heart consistent with a previous heart attack.

Carlow coroner Dr Brendan Doyle returned verdicts in accordance with the finding of the jury. He expressed the hope the inquest would bring “some closure” to the families.