Irish soldier killed in parachute accident while taking holiday course in Netherlands


Investigators were yesterday trying to establish how an Irish soldier died in an accident during a civilian parachuting training course while on holiday with Army friends in the Netherlands.

Pte Shane O'Neill (24), originally from Co Limerick, but who had been living at 123 Mount Nebo Avenue, Gurranabraher, Cork city, was killed instantly yesterday morning during the training jump at Texel, an island off the coast of Holland.

Texel is a well-known parachuting centre and is often used by the military for training.

It is understood that Pte O'Neill's parachute failed to open properly after he left the jump plane at over 3,000 feet. He tried to free the parachute, but became entangled in it. His reserve parachute also failed to open.

He was one of a group of eight soldiers from the Fourth Infantry Battalion, stationed at Collins Barracks in Cork city, who had undertaken the week-long private parachute training course while on holiday.

Pte O'Neill arrived at the centre last Friday and took groundschool instruction on Saturday and Sunday. He took his first jump at 10.15 a.m. Irish time yesterday and was seen to be in difficulty with the parachute before the accident occurred. A spokesman for the Defence Forces said that Pte O'Neill had not received previous training in parachuting.

The Army press officer, Comdt Kieran McDaid, said the news of Pte O'Neill's death had shocked and saddened his comrades. "They were absolutely devastated. They were all jumping together when the tragedy happened at about 11.15 a.m. local time."

The soldiers were scheduled to do a further four jumps later this week.

"They were all excited at doing this course. Unfortunately, it's turned to tragedy. They were due to return on Saturday but, given what's happened, his comrades have abandoned the course and are returning home", Comdt McDaid said.

Pte O'Neill followed his father, Eugene, into the Army four years ago. It is understood that he was engaged to be married.

He had just completed a tour of duty in the Lebanon, where he served as a member of the 86th Battalion, which lost four of its members in a bus accident last April.

"He was an excellent soldier and had served as an acting corporal while in the Lebanon", said Comdt McDaid, who noted that Pte O'Neill's death came less than two weeks after Able Mechanic Robbie Dean was lost overboard from the LE Eithne.

"It's a very sad occasion for us again this week to have to report that a member of our Defence Forces has been killed", said Comdt McDaid. He added that, although he had died on holiday, Pte O'Neill would be accorded full military honours.

Last night, the Minister for Defence, Mr Smith, said he had been shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Pte O'Neill. He offered his condolences to the dead soldier's family, friends and comrades.