Family grieves son who died in skydiving plane crash
PRAYERS were said for the "life and soul" of a family yesterday after a skydiving plane crashed in New Zealand on Saturday, killing a young Irish electrician.
The parents of Patrick Byrne (26), from Brideswell, Askamore, Co Wexford, are now making arrangements for their son's remains to be repatriated.
Hundreds of friends of the thrill-seeking man, described as a "real character", attended Sunday Mass in St Brigid's Church in Askamore to show solidarity with his family.
Tragically, he had only been in New Zealand for three weeks when he died as he prepared to do a skydive on the country's South Island.
Mr Byrne was abroad on a one-year work visa when the aircraft he was travelling in burst into flames, killing him along with five New Zealanders, an Australian, a German and a Briton.
The incident, which is one of the worst plane disasters in New Zealand's history, happened at Fox Glacier Airport on the west coast. Witnesses described how the plane was almost completely destroyed after it went "straight into the ground" and how there were no signs of life.
Mr Byrne is survived by his parents, Hugh and Breda, two older brothers, Mark and David, and older sister, Laura.
Yesterday, Fr Barry French, a visiting priest in Askamore, comforted the family. He described Mr Byrne as a "very popular young man".
"There was a big crowd at Mass for him and a lot of tears were shed," he added.
Mr Byrne had been in "regular touch" with his family since he left his Co Wexford home three weeks ago.
The Department of Foreign Affairs is now providing consular assistance to his family.
John Sullivan, Fox Glacier's volunteer fire brigade's chief officer, watched the Fletcher FU24 crash from his home, about 50 metres from the crash site.
"It burst into flames on impact, I didn't see any sign of smoke or fire before then," he said. "I ran straight out there and did a quick 360 around the whole thing; by that time it was in flames.
"I thought that maybe if someone had been thrown clear on impact or if they'd tried to jump out in the air then there might have been something I could have done, but looking around the whole area there was no sign of life.
"People were coming from all directions. It happened about 150 metres off the nearest road, and there were cars coming down the airstrip, people running across the paddock to help.
"It's the first time I've witnessed anything like that. It brings a whole new meaning to too close to home -- only 50 metres away."
The accident happened at 1.15pm (local time) on Saturday when the plane, carrying a party of skydivers and tourists, crashed at the end of the runway at Fox Glacier Airport.
The bodies were removed from the site yesterday.
A three-member Transport Accident Investigation Commission team arrived at Fox Glacier yesterday to begin a scene investigation.