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Friday 23 March 2018

Death of pilot and trainee: fatigue ‘a possible factor’

Niall Doherty and Damien Deegan killed

Damien Deegan (L) and Niall Doherty (R)
Damien Deegan (L) and Niall Doherty (R)
Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

AN investigation into a light aircraft crash in which a flight instructor and his trainee pilot were both killed has found that fatigue may have been a factor in the accident.

Instructor Niall Doherty from Roscrea, Co Tipperary, and Damien Deegan, from Crinkle, Birr, Co Offaly, both aged 31, died when the Reims-Cessna crashed near Birr Airfield on November 11 last year.

A witness to the crash told the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) that the light aircraft was climbing away from the airfield’s runway when the engine was heard to suddenly lose power and was seen to make a steep descending turn before it disappeared from view.

The garda helicopter, using a thermal imaging camera, later found the wreckage of the overturned plane. The bodies of both Mr Doherty and Mr Deegan were found inside.

The AAIU found that the engine power loss was due to “fuel starvation”. It estimated that the plane had just 9.6 litres of fuel left in its tank which was less than the minimum of 13.25 litres recommended by the aircraft’s manufacturer.

No technical faults were found that could have contributed to the accident.

Investigators concluded that fatigue may have been a factor in the accident and noted that the aircraft had landed with inadequate fuel reserves on a number of occasions during the previous month.

The report pointed out that Mr Doherty had already carried out five hours and ten minutes of training flights the day of the accident and had little break between flights.

“The combination of travelling from Dublin, followed by five disparate training details prior to the accident detail could have induced a level of fatigue in the instructor.

“To what extent fatigue may have played a part in a miscalculation regarding fuel management or events following the engine power loss cannot be assessed,” it added.

The AAIU also criticised the level of supervision and oversight of the Ormand Flying Club - which owned the aircraft - saying it was “inadequate”. It pointed to inadequate fuel planning which resulted in some flights being operated with less than the reserve fuel.

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