Helicopter crashed at 'unsuitable' landing site
A helicopter that burst into flames after striking a lamppost at a school should never have attempted landing in the centre of a small village -- let alone a congested car park -- air accident investigators have said.
The final report by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) said it was "remarkable" that no one was seriously injured, following the crash at the Neptune hotel complex near the beach in Bettystown, Co Meath, on September 18, 2008.
The accident occurred at a former hotel which now houses Colaiste na hInse school -- closed at the time of the crash.
The pilot emerged unscathed from the crash, which was dramatically captured on CCTV.
Two bystanders were treated for minor injuries when one of the helicopter's rotors struck a lamppost and burst into a ball of flames, sending debris flying into nearby properties and cars.
"Had the wreckage entered the main street, it is likely that significantly more injury to persons and damage to property would have occurred," the AAIU report found.
Investigators noted that "bystanders approached the flaming wreckage oblivious to the threat to their own safety".
"The public should be aware that aviation accidents such as this one, while extremely rare, frequently involve a large quantity of fuel and are highly dangerous."
The investigation also found that the pilot of the American-registered Sikorsky S-76B helicopter did not appear to be properly licensed to conduct the flight. Investigators also noted that it was "probable that the pilot felt pressurised into attempting to land at a landing site which he himself most likely considered less than suitable".
The overall car park had dimensions of approximately 32 metres by 24 metres. But the presence of an underground ramp and three parked cars as the helicopter was coming in for landing, limited the space to just 15 metres by 15 metres, investigators found.
They also noted that the pilot did not inspect the car park landing spot prior to attempting a landing without "the required competent crew" of two pilots.
The flight, therefore, did not comply with Irish regulations calling for an Air Operator's Certificate (AOC) requiring two pilots.
"Had this been the case, this accident would not have occurred since an AOC would require a landing site to be surveyed in advance and the car park would have been rejected as unsuitable," the report stated.