Pilot who ditched in sea praised by investigators
Published 14/10/2010 | 05:00
A light aircraft pilot who was forced to ditch his new plane in the Irish Sea has been praised by air accident investigators for his flying skills and initiative, which allowed him to land safely in difficult and demanding conditions.
An official investigation into the emergency yesterday found that the plane was forced down by engine failure.
However, the air accident investigator's report warned that pre-flight checks carried out on the aircraft were not sufficiently thorough.
John O'Shaughnessy, from Foulksmills, Co Wexford, was flying his two-seater plane from Wales to Wexford on August 11, 2009, when the emergency occurred -- close to the scene of Ireland's worst-ever aviation accident, when 61 lives were lost in the Tuskar air disaster in 1968.
Mr O'Shaughnessy executed a "belly land" in relatively flat seas off Tuskar Rock while flying his new plane from Wales and was just 15 minutes from his destination -- an airstrip in Wexford -- when the incident occurred.
After the near textbook sea landing, the 53-year-old clambered out of the cockpit on to a wing of the Avid Speedwing and was airlifted to safety.
Air accident investigators found the engine had stopped without warning.
Charity rowers on board the British Orchid boat videoed the dramatic crash landing in the Irish Sea and were amazed to see the pilot clamber from the wreckage.
Some of the team had initially dismissed the sighting as nothing more than a diving seagull.
They rowed to Mr O'Shaughnessy, who had put on a survival suit before getting into the plane, and waited near him until a Coast Guard helicopter arrived.
The aircraft had been flown for 243 hours before the accident and the pilot had 152 hours' flying time and was fully licensed.
Mr O'Shaughnessy, who is originally from Co Clare, had only flown the plane once -- six months earlier -- before attempting the trip across the Irish Sea from Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire to an airfield run by the Society of Amateur Aircraft Constructors, near Taghmon village.
Mr O'Shaughnessy was treated for shock and hypothermia but was discharged from hospital within a few hours of the crash.
Air accident investigators said: "The actual ditching was successfully carried out by the pilot, despite the fact that he was not particularly familiar with the aircraft."
They also said he should have submitted a flight plan.
Their report found the engine stopped after 55 minutes of flying time and was "probably due to fuel starvation relating to a fuel-vapour related problem".
"The pilot immediately selected the other fuel tank and attempted to restart the engine," the report read.
"With the aircraft descending through 900ft the restart attempt was abandoned and a successful ditching was carried out. The pilot was not injured."
Investigators assessed the damage to the plane after it was towed to Carna beach in Wexford and they found it substantially intact. But due to salt- water damage the aircraft was "a write-off".