Inquest recommends implementation of air crash report

Trainee pilot and instructor both died when Cessna crashed in Offaly in 2012

File photo of the scene of a light aircraft crash in Birr, Co Offaly. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

File photo of the scene of a light aircraft crash in Birr, Co Offaly. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire


Recommendations from an air accident investigation should be implemented, a jury at the inquest of two men who were killed in an air crash in Co Offaly found yesterday.

Trainee pilot Damien Deegan, aged 31, from Co Offaly and flight instructor Niall Doherty, aged 31, from Co Tipperary were both killed instantly when the Cessna plane crashed near Birr airfield on November 11th, 2012.

An inquest found the two men had died as a result of injuries “consistent with being involved in an aircraft accident”.

Coroner Brian Mahon noted the “air accident was caused by a stall and associated loss of control due to power loss caused by fuel starvation”.

He asked the jury for an addendum to their verdict recommending that safety recommendations from the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) report be “implemented in every private airfield in this jurisdiction”.

The inquest was told the plane had completed five training flights before Mr Deegan got into the plane with Mr Doherty.

Jack O’Keeffe, a student pilot who had completed a training flight with Mr Doherty, called 999 on witnessing the plane go down.

The then 5th year secondary school student with two years flying experience had just completed an hour-long flight with the instructor.

He told the inquest that Damien Deegan got into the aircraft without the plane’s engine stopping, a changeover described by AAIU investigator Paddy Judge as a “hot turnover”.

The plane had taken off and completed three circuits of the airfield before getting into difficulty on take off after a “stop and go” landing at the airfield, he said.

Another student pilot, Emmet Lennon, who had completed a flight with Mr Doherty before Mr O’Keeffe, observed “the aircraft lost power suddenly and it banked left quite sharply” before descending from view.

The inquest heard Mr O’Keeffe had refuelled the plane, which burns on average 22 litres an hour, with 60 litres before Mr Lennon’s flight.

On a plane of this type, around 13 litres of fuel is “unusable” and at this fuel level the aircraft can suffer from fuel starvation, the inquest was told.

AAIU inspector Paddy Judge said the plane was carrying 9.6 litres of fuel when it crashed.

Mr Mahon said: “Basically it had run out of fuel.”

Mr Judge explained that in a “nose up” situation at this fuel level can cause “fuel starvation due to inadequate supply in the fuel tanks”. He described the number of lessons given by Mr Doherty on the day as “quite a lot”.

He noted both pilots were correctly licensed and said “it’s likely control was lost due to inadequate air speed”.

Mr Judge read the AAIU’s eight report recommendations regarding fuel policies, record keeping, engine failure close to ground and the number of lessons an instructor provides in a day.

Barrister Brendan Hyland for the Doherty family noted the Ormand Flying Club’s chief instructor was “very happy with the competence and professionalism of the flying instructor”.

Mr Mahon said: “These two young men have been taken from their families in an instant and I want to offer them my all our sympathies today.”

“It was a major incident here and it was very widely reported but we still are left with two families grieving the loss of two fine young men,” he added.

Mr Judge expressed his sympathy on behalf of the AAIU and Department of Transport, Sgt Graham Kavanagh extended his sympathies as did the foreman of the jury.

Accepting the medical evidence, the foreman of the jury said: “We hope that the recommendations would be implemented”.