Air accident investigators are examining the scene of a crash where a light aircraft crashed on Saturday night, killing well-known pilot Howard Cox who was due to take part in the Foynes Air Show on Sunday.
It's believed Mr Cox (67) was killed instantly when his BD5, described as a "home-built mini jet" and of a type used in a James Bond film in the 1980s, crashed in a field north of Dungarvan close to the Co Waterford coastline at about 6.45pm on Saturday.
Mr Cox, a married father-of-one from Devon in England, was a regular visitor to Ireland and took part in many aviation events here over the years.
His aircraft was based at Waterford Aero Club in Killowen, outside Waterford city, and he took part in last year’s inaugural Foynes Air Show in Co Limerick.
He also took part in the Shannon Air Display event held last weekend to celebrate 70 years of commercial air traffic from Shannon.
He was on his way to Shannon on Saturday when the crash happened.
His friend Gerry Humphreys, another experienced pilot and director of the Foynes Air Show, was travelling behind him and took off about five minutes later. "As I left, the guy in the tower said he [Howard] was coming back with a fire.
I moved out of the way and, as I looked ahead, I could see what appeared to be the impact.” Mr Humphreys flew towards the impact site and made a mayday call, but quickly realised the extent of the tragedy. “It looked as if it was fatal. I couldn’t see how anyone could survive it.”
It’s believed Mr Cox had become aware of a technical problem, reportedly a fire, on his plane minutes after he took off and made a mayday call to air traffic control in Shannon. He attempted to turn back to land at Waterford airport but crashed in the Garranbane area.
Emergency services were quickly at the scene but the pilot was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.
Mr Humphreys described Mr Cox as “a really talented guy” and “a wonderful aviator and engineer” who worked as a marine engineer for many years.
“The airplane he was flying was his life’s passion, really. He started building it in college in the 1970s.” A team of four investigators was despatched by the Air Accident Investigation Unit after the crash and arrived on the scene after 9pm on Saturday.
Mr Cox’s remains have been taken to Waterford Regional Hospital for a post-mortem examination, but could not do much else on Saturday night as darkness fell.
Wreckage of the aircraft was thrown over a wide area, about one acre, and the investigators and gardaí began collecting evidence and examining the scene on Sunday morning.
Initial indications pointed to a fire on the aircraft. It’s understood the AAIU has impounded emergency call tapes from both Shannon and Waterford to establish the nature of Mr Cox’s last call to air traffic control.
The BD5 plane was powered by a twin rotor, 110hp engine. Mr Cox's craft was the only one of its type in use in Europe in recent times and the same as a BD5 used in the James Bond film Octopussy.
Organisers of the Foynes show said that, following a request from Mr Cox’s family, they had decided to proceed with Sunday’s show, “and dedicate the event to our colleague’s memory”.