Disorientated pilots thought plane was upside down before fatal crash
Published 25/01/2012 | 05:00
TWO Air Corps pilots became so disorientated that they may have thought they were flying upside down before a fatal crash.
A report into the deaths of Captain Derek Furniss (32) and Cadet David Jevens (22) in October 2009 found their aircraft took a "rapid series of steep turns" as it flew through a narrow valley before crashing into a Co Galway bog.
A report from the Air Accident Investigation Unit found that the probable cause of the crash was "spatial disorientation", which may have resulted in the pilots believing their aircraft was upside down and was plummeting to the ground when in fact it was ascending or flying level.
The investigation found that very changeable weather conditions and flying at high speed in a mountainous area while visibility was reduced were contributory factors.
Capt Furniss was from Rathfarnham in Dublin and had written about disorientation while still a cadet. Cadet Jevens, from Davidstown Glynn in Co Wexford, was due to qualify as a pilot just months after the fatal crash.
The pair had set off at 4.20pm on October 12 for a training flight from Casement aerodrome in west Dublin to Galway Airport, via Cavan and Connemara. They were flying a Pilatus PC-9M training aircraft.
But bad weather near Lough Mask on the Galway/Mayo border resulted in the aircraft taking an alternative route to Maum in Co Galway, with the airplane keeping visual contact with the ground.
At 4.50pm, eyewitnesses saw the aircraft cross a ridge into the 'narrow and steep-sided' Crumlin Valley, before it began to undertake a rapid series of steep turns and climbs.
The cockpit voice recorder noted that alarms sounded to say the aircraft was flying too low, and Capt Furniss took control. Six seconds later he was recorded as saying: "Bad decision now". Seconds later the recording ended.
The men died after crashing into a hill at Crumlin East, near Cornamona on the Galway/ Mayo border. No technical faults were found with the aircraft, and the accident was "not survivable".
Cadet Jevens died the day before his 22nd birthday, leaving his parents having to face the "almost impossible reality" of not seeing their first-born child prosper, his father Donal said last night.
His brother Christopher and sister Sarah had "lost a lifetime" with their brother, and his girlfriend Niamh had lost a "future of hopes, dreams and joy."
"David should not be gone from us, he had his life to live, he had his dreams, aspirations and future to look forward to," Mr Jevens said.
He criticised the delay in the publication of the report.
Defence Forces Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Sean McCann, extended his sympathies to the dead men's families.
"I have ensured that all recommendations in the report have been implemented or are being implemented," he added.
Cadet Jevens was considered "one of the better students" in his class, the report found, noting that Capt Furniss took control of the aircraft in Crumlin Valley, "and there is no evidence that the cadet had any further input into the operation of the aircraft".
It was "likely" that the instructor had been trying to maintain visual ground contact, and lost awareness of the circumstances around him.
"This incorrect perception can be so compelling that it may lead to a situation where a pilot no longer trusts or follows his flight instruments," it added.
"He (Capt Furniss) was one of the most experienced pilots and was held in high esteem. This may have generated a level of self-belief that there were few conditions that he could not recover the aircraft from."
Capt Furniss's family was not available for comment.
- Captain Derek Furniss (32) joined the Defence Forces in October 1994, qualifying as a pilot in 1996 and becoming a qualified flight instructor in 1999.
He had over 2,500 flight hours and was the Chief Flight Instructor on the Pilatus aircraft and a member of the Air Corps PC-9 Display Team. Originally from Ballinteer in Dublin, he was not married but was living with his partner in Dublin. He had been off-duty the weekend before the accident, and had run his first 10km cross-country race the day before.
- Cadet David Jevens died the day before his 22nd birthday, after joining the Defence Forces as an Air Corps Cadet in 2006.
He was at the advanced stages of flight training on the PC-9M, and had over 190 flight hours.
From Wexford, Cadet Jevens was considered one of the best in his class. One instructor said he was "well above average standard", had good awareness and displayed a "high degree of competency".