A helicopter that crashed yesterday evening in Co Kildare killing a flight instructor and a trainee pilot passed its annual maintenance check on Tuesday, it has emerged.
The Schweizer helicopter came down in perfect weather conditions in the Bog of Allen near the village of Johnstownbridge some time after 5pm after it left Weston Airport near Liexlip for the training flight.
The helicopter’s 34-year-old pilot from Co Donegal and his 24-year-old student from Co Clare, who was studying for his private pilot’s licence, were killed in the crash. They have not been named. The pilot had at least two years’ experience while the 24-year-old had been in the air on a number of previous occasions.
A spokesman for the European Helicopter Academy, which is based in Weston Airport and operated the helicopter, said the Schweizer 300CBi is one of the most frequently used aircraft for helicopter training in the work and has a very good safety record.
He said the crash is believed to have happened yesterday evening but was only discovered when staff arrived to EHA offices in Weston this morning.
“These training flights usually take a hour or an hour and a half but the alarm wasn’t raised until this morning because people didn’t realise anybody was missing as this was the last flight of the day and there was nobody else back at the base,” the spokesman said.
“It wasn’t until this morning that the alarm was raised when they realised that they hadn’t returned.”
He said the aircraft had undergone its annual maintenance check on Tuesday of this week “and was in perfect working order.” The check was carried out by Helicopter Support Services in Cork, he added.
A search led by the Coast Guard rescue helicopter discovered the wreckage in an isolated area of the Bog of Allen after midday when it was reported missing to the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and the Garda.
“We only became aware of this flight today when were told it was missing and we immediately initiated a search and rescue," IAA spokeswoman Lilian Cassan said. "A search and rescue helicopter was scrambled. It was sent out in the known flight path that the flight took."
She said they were notified that the flight was missing at about midday today and said it would be quite normal for the IAA not to be aware of certain flight plans. "The airspace out to the west of Weston would be what is called uncontrolled airspace so there would be no requirement for anybody to contact us.”
A Garda spokeswoman said scene-of-crime officers were en route the scene while a Department of Transport spokeswoman said Air Accident Investigation Unit officers were also travelling to the scene.