Monday 19 August 2019

Amazing photographs show old jet arrive for new lease of life at quirky Sligo campsite

The biggest hurdle came at the end of the journey, says man who headed up 'plane sailing' operation

Barry Duggan and Paddy Clancy

One of the main operators in the 'plane sailing' venture which saw a Boeing 767 travel up the west coast of Ireland by sea said the biggest obstacle came at the end of the journey.

Sean Harrington of Atlantic Towage and Marine said the operation began early on Thursday morning, but awaiting in Sligo on Saturday night was the biggest obstacle to a successful landing.

The 70-ton jet was lifted last night from the sea and placed in the back garden of funeral undertaker and embalmer David McGowan for his quirky campsite.

“We pushed the barge into place at shallow waters in the Shannon estuary at 5am on Thursday morning. Everyone involved has to take tides and weather into account when doing something like this,” Mr Harrington from Bere Island, Co Cork said.

A barge and tugboat – MTS Statum – from Southampton arrived for the mammoth operation.

The plane was aboard around lunchtime and it then had to be tied and welded into place.

Credit: Sean Harrington of Atlantic Towage and Marine
Credit: Sean Harrington of Atlantic Towage and Marine

“The plane had to be sea-fastened. It was about 5pm on Thursday when it was pulled out into the estuary,” he said.

In scenes never seen before along the west coast, the plane was towed from the Shannon estuary towards Killala Bay in Sligo.

Credit: Sean Harrington of Atlantic Towage and Marine
Credit: Sean Harrington of Atlantic Towage and Marine

It attracted curious onlookers from six counties – Limerick, Kerry, Clare, Galway, Mayo and Sligo – as the plane literally “surfed” its way to the north-west, arriving on Friday night.

“The plan was to get it ashore on Saturday morning but the weather was too bad. There was a big surf on the beach and we couldn’t get in close enough as it was too dangerous so that delayed it for a while – most of the day really,” Mr Harrington said.

When conditions improved, lines were run from ribs to machinery ashore to haul the barge and plane to the beach at high tide on Saturday evening.

The barge arrived ashore at 7pm but the crew had to wait until the tide went out for a crane to come onto the beach and take the plane off.

Credit: Sean Harrington of Atlantic Towage and Marine
Credit: Sean Harrington of Atlantic Towage and Marine

“It was unloaded at 2am on Sunday morning and back on dry land while another operation got underway to pull the barge off the beach. It was a big job but a great one to be involved in,” Mr Harrington said.

“Best of luck to David McGowan with the glamping site. It’s very unique and we’re sure it will be a massive success,” Mr Harrington added.

McGowan is giving new life to the 159-ft Boeing 767 after buying the discarded aircraft from Shannon Airport for €20,000.

His problem for the former Russian-owned airliner was how to get it from Shannon to its new site at a glamping resort in Enniscrone, Co Sligo.

There were two bridges in Co Clare too low for the jet to pass under. The county council refused to permit him to hire a crane to lift the plane over the bridges because they didn't want roads into Limerick blocked.

So David, who runs funeral homes in Sligo and Ballina, Co Mayo, decided on plane sailing.

He rented a giant barge in Southampton for the two-day journey from Shannon to Enniscrone with the plane aboard.

He overcame several problems but agreed with Harrington that the final hurdle was the toughest.

His engineering staff advised against lifting the plane off during the morning tide because of the sea-swell.

"This is a complicated engineering task," said David. "The barge is 450 tons and there is a load of 80 tonnes on it. That's 530 tons we have to get to the shore using a number of big and small tugs.

"We have to have 100pc safety. I certainly don't want the barge dancing on the waves with the aircraft aboard."

A wooden road was built so the plane, after being lifted off by crane, could be transferred by giant trucks across the beach to the road into the village.

Several thousand people gathered in Enniscrone yesterday to view the jet on the water.

David had to watch the sea voyage from a helicopter because the Department of the Marine prevented him from boarding the barge when he didn't have the necessary paperwork.

He said: "It was something about a 'safe pass' but I have to look into it. I've never heard of a 'safe pass'."

The jumbo, called the Big Yoke during eight months of planning its move, has a 140-ft wingspan.

The wings were removed to allow it make the journey.

It couldn't be flown because there was no working engine.

It was previously owned by Russia's second-largest airline company, Transaero, before its financial collapse last year.

David bought it when he was inspired by the introduction of the Wild Atlantic Way to turn a disused 15 acres he owns near his home in Enniscrone into the Quirky Glamping Village.

The village - which he describes as the first of its kind in the world - will feature accommodation in different types of transport facilities, including a train, boats, buses and London black taxis. The Boeing 767 will be converted into eight apartments.

He described the purchase of the jumbo as "a buzz."

"I'm a funeral director and embalmer. I'm surrounded with death every week. You need something to give you a buzz," he said.

Sunday Independent

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