Pilot in Meath helicopter crash admits error


A HELICOPTER which crashed and exploded into flames in the centre of a busy seaside town was too big for the car park the pilot was trying to “squeeze it into”, a District Court judge was told.

Pilot William Curry (35) admitted it was “an error of poor judgment” to land the Sikorsky S76B in the car park of the Neptune Hotel in Bettystown, Co Meath, on September 18th, 2008.

Judge Flann Brennan said it was “a miracle he survived this incident and that nobody else was killed or injured”.

As he imposed a €5,000 fine, a jail term of three months, which he suspended, and awarded costs against him, Judge Brennan added that what he found “staggering” was that Curry had seen a Land Rover and a woman and a child in the car park but went on to land in “a decision that seems to have been incredibly reckless”.

Drogheda District Court yesterday heard from two experts with the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), which brought the prosecution against Curry.

He has an address in Riverside Crescent, Kilcullen, Co Kildare, but is now running a helicopter pilot-training business in Portugal.

Capt Paul Gingell from the IAA investigation team said debris from the burnt-out helicopter was found up to 70m away.

The aircraft had been flown to Bettystown with two passengers on board. It landed on Bettystown beach and the passengers got out.

When a large crowd of people gathered to look at the helicopter, Curry decided to try and land somewhere else and was given permission to land in the hotel car park, the court was told.

While he was attempting to do this, one of the rotor blades struck a street light damaging the aircraft. When it got to the ground it went on fire and exploded.

Part of the hotel was being used as a temporary secondary school and the pupils had finished for the day just a few hours earlier.

Capt John Davidson Steel from the IAA said there should have been “no attempt whatsoever to land in such an environment”. The dimensions were “less than the physical size” needed – “he was trying to squeeze in there”.

Curry pleaded guilty to three offences: flying in a reckless manner so as to endanger life or property, flying in a congested area in a manner so that a safe landing could not be made if there was a power failure, and landing where there was undue hazard to people or property. Curry said he saw the woman and child in the car park but was by then past the point where he could stop the landing manoeuvre.

His solicitor said he was remorseful, he realised it was a stupid mistake and it arose out of “a failure of judgment” and out of concern for people on the beach.

His pilot’s licence was initially suspended by the IAA until he met its requirements on additional training and has since been restored.