Wednesday 16 January 2019

Pilot (84) who died when home-built plane struck a tree 'died doing what he loved best' - inquest

Pilot David Ryan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Pilot David Ryan. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Mr Ryan’s workshop, where he built his own plane and was working on a new project. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Ralph Riegel

A VASTLY experienced 84 year old pilot died when his home-built plane struck a tree during an emergency landing attempt after his engine cut-out due to icing problems.

David Ryan (84) was a lifelong aviation enthusiast and took 15 years to build his Rutan single engine aircraft in Dublin which he then flew around Ireland.

Waterford Coroner Dr Eoin Maughan said Mr Ryan was a remarkable man who enjoyed excellent health and was still flying his beloved aircraft at 84 years.

"For a man of his age to be flying an aircraft like that was remarkable," Dr Maughan said.

Mr Ryan’s workshop, where he built his own plane and was working on a new project. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Mr Ryan’s workshop, where he built his own plane and was working on a new project. Photo: Gerry Mooney

"It was just pure back luck that he got into a situation like that.

"He just ran out of options."

Dr Maughan returned a verdict of accidental death in accordance with injuries sustained during an aviation accident.

Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) official Leo Murray said it was most likely that the engine of Mr Ryan's plane was affected by a dangerous build up of ice as he flew towards west Waterford around 4pm on March 27.

He said the meteorological conditions off Dungarvan that day meant there was a high probability of a build up of ice in the carburettor of the engine.

"Once ice builds up in the throat of the carburettor it just gets worse," he said.

The AAIU official said Mr Ryan was a hugely experienced pilot.

"He was the most experienced pilot in the country for that type of plane."

However, Mr Murray pointed out that because the Rutan was a canard-style plane with the tail plane located in the nose section of the fuselage, as a pilot pitched up to prepare for an emergency landing, the forward fins could block visibility.

There was no evidence of the pilot being incapacitated and Mr Ryan had issued a mayday alert when his engine cut out and was attempting to make an emergency landing in a field just off the Cork-Waterford road near Bridgie Terry's Pub outside Dungarvan.

However, Mr Murray said he was faced with "a very unexpected event" and quickly ran out of options.

The inquest heard that, just minutes after taking off from Waterford Airport on March 27 2017, the pensioner from Sandymount in Dublin issued a mayday alert.

Several people on the ground reported hearing the sound of an engine like a lawnmower which was "fluctuating" or revving up and then suddenly easing back.

Several eye witnesses including Paudie Crotty, Brendan Gallagher and Tom Feehily heard what they suspected were problems with the engine of the plane.

"The engine was fluttering - it didn't sound right," Mr Crotty said.

Mr Feehily said he heard three loud backfires from the engine before the sound of the motor appeared to totally cut out.

Oil delivery man Tommy Moroney spotted what he initially thought was a model aircraft flying overhead.

He was then horrified to see the plane hit trees in the distance.

"It took me about seven minutes to get to the plane in the field," he said.

"There was debris all over the place. There was a man lying on the ground under a tree."

Mr Ryan was pronounced dead at the scene.

Debris from his disintegrated aircraft was found in the tree, on the field and in nearby overgrowth.

University Hospital Waterford pathologist Dr Nigam Shah said Mr Ryan would have died almost instantly from multiple injuries including numerous fractures and several tears to his heart and aorta.

Mr Ryan's daughter Gillian O'Loughlin confirmed that she identified her father's body to emergency services in Waterford that day.

She paid tribute, on behalf of her family, to all those who attended the scene and tried to help her father.

"He was full of life - he had a good 10 years ahead of him," she said.

She said her father adored flying and living an active life.

Mr Ryan's son, David Jr., said it was fitting that the 84-year-old died doing what he loved best.

"Flying was his dream, and he died doing what he loved best.

"Of course we will miss him, but he and my brother and sister watched our mother fade slowly from cancer many years ago and we would not want that for him.

"He built the plane in the back garden over a 15-year period, and in the end he had to get a crane to lift it out before he brought it to Waterford.

“He would go and fly it many times, it was his passion. His current passion was a gyrocopter he had started building.

"He was always making things or taking things apart. He began building his own plane, the one he died in. It kept him going after our mother died 17 years ago because he needed something to focus on," he added.

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