ENGINE failure is being investigated as the primary cause of a light aircraft crash which killed a flight instructor and trainee pilot.
Niall Doherty and advanced learner Damien Deegan, both 31, died when the Cessna 150H came down in scrubland a short distance from Birr airfield, Co Offaly.
The friends had been flying circuits late yesterday afternoon, with the grass landing strip always in sight when they came down.
It is understood the families have been told that engine failure is suspected as the main cause.
Local priest Fr Michael Reddin said Mr Deegan's parents Michael and Brenda, brother Diarmuid, and sisters Davnet, Aine and Mhuire are shattered.
"They are totally and utterly in pieces," he added.
Mr Deegan, from the village of Crinkle near the airfield, was almost at the end of his pilot training and understood to be planning to get a commercial licence. He worked at Tesco in Birr.
Air accident investigators removed the crushed fuselage of the Cessna from an overgrown, boggy field in rough terrain after initial on-site inspections.
The wreckage could be seen upside down with the wheels in the air.
Instructor Mr Doherty had worked as a commercial pilot in the past and taught at the Ormand Flying Club. He also worked in the family hardware store in Roscrea, Co Tipperary.
Local councillor Denis Ryan said Mr Doherty and parents Michael and Eileen, sister Eadaoin and brothers Gearoid and Antoin are popular in the town.
"He was a responsible, friendly and outgoing young man," he said.
Officials from the Department of Transport Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) will examine in detail the plane's mechanics at their base in Grangegorman, Dublin, to determine the cause of the crash.
Jurgen Whyte, AAIU chief, said: "The men were on an instructional flight. The Cessna is a workhorse of a training aircraft, well known around the world."
Both men flew out of the tight-knit Ormand club, based at the airfield in Birr, where 30 aviation enthusiasts are members.
Fr Reddin described Mr Deegan as a keen sportsman committed to helping others, his community and local organisations.
He was in the process of growing a Movember beard for charity.
"That's just an insight to the type of chap he was. Always caring for other people and very social," the priest said.
The Cessna 150H involved in the crash was used by the Ormand club as a training plane, and affectionately nicknamed The Crow.
Mr Deegan and Mr Doherty had been flying on a rectangle-shaped route around Birr airfield with the landing strip always in sight.
Air traffic control at Shannon raised the alarm when the Cessna fell off radar screens shortly before 5pm yesterday as darkness fell.
Visual flight rules, which dictate when light aircraft should be grounded in each month of the year, are not believed to be an issue in the investigation.
The Cessna was first registered in 1968 but investigators stressed that age should not be seen as a reflection on air-worthiness.
The aircraft are not fitted with a flight box recorder.
Several messages of sympathy have been posted on the Ormand club's Facebook page.
Friends of the victims, as well as members of flying clubs across Ireland, have remembered the pair, whose deaths have shocked the aviation world.
David Smyth, senior flight instructor at Flightwise training and charter agency, said: "Our sincere condolences to both families and all the members of Ormand Flying Club from all at Flightwise in Weston airport. A tragic loss to aviation. May they rest in peace."
Skydive Ireland wrote: "So, so sad. Two of the best lads you could meet who absolutely loved flying. You'll both be very missed at Birr. Thoughts and prayers for both families."
Aerobatics instructor Gerry Humphreys added: "Tragic news, such a beautiful Remembrance Sunday for flying, our sincere sympathies to everyone in the Ormand Flying Club from your many friends in Coonagh."
Mr Deegan's funeral is planned for St Patrick's Church in Birr at noon on Thursday and Mr Doherty's is expected to be the following day at St Mary's Church in Dunkerrin.