An 84-year-old pilot was running out of options after the engine of his aircraft cut out due to ice in the carburettor and he failed to land the aircraft safely in a field in Co Waterford, an inquest into the man's death has heard.
David Ryan from St Alban's Park in Sandymount in Dublin was flying solo in his glassfibre two-seater Rutan Long-EZ, which he had built from a kit, when he got into difficulty some 18 minutes after taking off from Waterford Airport shortly after 4pm on March 27th, 2017.
Leo Murray of the air accident investigation unit of the Department of Transport told an inquest into Mr Ryan's death in east Waterford county coroner's court in Dungarvan that the aircraft's engine had cut out due to carburettor icing. The Rutan Long-EZ's engine is located at the rear of the aircraft.
Mr Murray said carburettor icing can happen with high levels of moisture in the air but does not always end in a negative outcome if the pilot has a suitable location, such as a large field, in which to land their aircraft by allowing it to glide down when the engine cuts out.
Mr Ryan had sent out a mayday signal and told Waterford air traffic control his engine had stopped and that he had selected a field for landing east of Dungarvan but he may have noticed fencing and power lines in the field and may have changed his intended landing area, said Mr Murray.
“This was an unexpected event and with a big enough field there could have been a positive outcome but there were a lot of things against him so he was running out of options,” said Mr Murray, adding that Mr Ryan’s landing speed would have also been quite fast.
Witness Brendan Gallagher said when he first heard the aircraft revving, he thought it was a lawnmower but when he spotted it at about 2,000ft coming in and out of the clouds he realised it was a aircraft in some kind of trouble because of "the way the engine was going up and down".
Another witness, Tom Feeley, said he saw the aircraft coming in over Dungarvan Bay at around 700-800ft when he heard it backfire three times with loud bangs before the engine cut out and it continued flying in a straight line for 10-15 seconds before going down.
Another witness, Tom Moroney, said he saw the aircraft dip lower and lower before it hit a tree and disintegrated and he raced across the fields to the crash scene where he found Mr Ryan, who had suffered serious head and chest injuries, but he could find no pulse.
Paramedics Paul Keane and Donnagh Wall told how they administered CPR but Mr Ryan had suffered severe trauma to the head and chest and he did not respond and he was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash at Knockahavaun, some three miles east of Dungarvan.
Mr Ryan's daughter Gillie O'Loughlin said her father had spent 15 years building the aircraft from a kit and had spent another 15 years flying it. He had had a medical check some weeks before the crash where he was found to be in such good health they jokingly referred to him as Dorian Gray.
“He was in fantastic health and full of life – he was 84 but he could easily have gone on for another 10 years – he was firing on all cylinders, unlike the plane,” said Ms O’Loughlin, who thanked all those who had helped in the rescue operation for her father.
Consultant pathologist at University Hospital Waterford Dr Nigam Shah said Mr Ryan had died from multiple injuries consistent with an aircraft crash and said death would have been very quick as the injuries he suffered had been very significant.
The jury returned a verdict of accidental death and east Waterford coroner Dr Eoin Maughan extended his sympathies to Mr Ryan's family on the loss of their father in such tragic circumstances, while Supt Mick Leacy expressed his condolences on behalf of An Garda Síochána.