Pilot in fatal air crash ‘composed and professional’

Single-engine aircraft en route for Shannon came down in Co Waterford field last July

A pilot who died when his single-engine aircraft crashed in Co Waterford was professional and spoke in a composed voice when reporting engine problems to air traffic control, according to an accident report.

The US-made Bede Aircraft crashed in Garranbaun last July, just eight minutes into a flight from Waterford to Shannon. The pilot, Howard Cox (67), was the only person on board.

According to a preliminary report from the Air Accident Investigation Unit of the Department of Transport, the aircraft left Waterford Airport at 5.33pm on July 25th having requested clearance for a route along the coast to Ardmore before turning for Shannon.

The pilot advised he would be travelling at a maximum height of 3,000ft and would be keeping clear of controlled airspace around Cork.

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At 5.39pm he told Shannon air traffic control he was “level at 1,200ft just coming to Dungarvan, routing to Ardmore”. This was followed by further routine exchanges although the report notes that communication was poor and the pilot could only be faintly heard.

At 5.41pm the pilot gave his call sign followed by the words “engine problem”. He then transmitted his call sign again followed by the words “engine failure” or “engine problem” and the words “heading back to . . . ” could be discerned.

‘Mayday, mayday’

At 5.42pm the aircraft transmitted: “Mayday, mayday, mayday. I’m going to have to land.” Air traffic control asked for a repeat and the pilot replied: “Mayday, mayday, mayday. I have engine failure. I have an engine on fire.”

The air traffic controllers acknowledged and asked: “Roger, are you going back to Waterford?” To which the pilot replied: “Negative, I’m just going to have to find a field.”

Distressed aircraft

A second aircraft, which was following to Ardmore and Shannon, had just taken off from Waterford and was at the boundary of the Waterford control zone. It was advised to remain north of Kilmacthomas.

At 5.42pm the pilot of the distressed aircraft reported he had “lost elevator authority as well as the fire”.

This was acknowledged by Shannon control. A final transmission was then heard, which the air accident report noted was difficult to discern but did contain the phrase “ending up in a field”.

The report notes “the pilot’s voice was composed and professional during these transmissions”. At 5.43pm, the second aircraft reported seeing “some smoke ahead of me on the ground”.

The second aircraft routed to the area where the smoke was observed, confirmed to Waterford air traffic control that the first aircraft had crashed and passed the crash site location to air traffic control. Waterford air traffic control alerted the emergency services, as did several members of the public.

The investigation is continuing and a full report will be issued in due course.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist