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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Family in vigil for 'critical' Slazenger heir after crash

Colin Gleeson

POWERSCOURT Estate owner Michael Slazenger tried to take evasive action as he ran into difficulty while attempting to land the small aircraft that crashed, killing his passenger.

Last night, his family were praying by his bedside as he continued his fight for survival following the "horrific" plane crash on Saturday.

The Slazengers are heirs to the famous sportswear brand that carries their name and is the foundation of the family fortune. An experienced pilot, Dr Slazenger moved to the 4,000-acre estate, which has been in the family for several centuries, in 1961.

The 69-year-old retired anaesthetist was in a critical condition at St James's Hospital last night with what were described as extensive burns.

His passenger in the Falco aircraft, 66-year-old businessman Noel Whitney, from Killiney, was killed instantly in the crash.

Mr Whitney owned engineering company Quantum Leap in Killiney. Last night, his daughter Debbie said the family was distraught.

"It's not a good time. At the moment, everybody is grieving too much to talk about it. We're just not in the right position or frame of thought at the moment," she said.

A spokesman for the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) confirmed yesterday that Dr Slazenger was piloting the small aircraft when it went down.

"We think he was trying to land when a go-around was attempted . . . The accident occurred during that," he said.

"This is when, if you can't land for any reason, you try to climb away. We think that's what he was doing when the accident happened."

A garda source described the scene which met the emergency services as they arrived at the crash site.

"There was fire and wreckage everywhere -- it was a horrific scene to find," he said.

The general manager of the Powerscourt Golf Club, Bernard Gibbons, said the whole estate was in shock yesterday.

"Dr Slazenger takes the plane out when the weather suits and Saturday was a nice day for a flight," he said.

"The plane was trying to land for a second time when the right wing clipped a bush outside the runway. The plane flipped over and nose-dived into the field beyond the runway.

"The craft exploded on impact but he survived the explosion and managed to get out. He was by the plane when the rescuers got there. He had managed to free himself."

Conscious

Dr Slazenger was conscious when emergency services arrived, according to the AAIU.

Mr Gibbons said several golfers on the course rushed over to try and help the two men. Dr Slazenger's nephew was in a house nearby and was also at the scene quickly.

A doctor who had been playing golf at the time administered first aid to the two men. Dr Slazenger was treated at the scene before being airlifted to hospital.

Mr Gibbons added that Dr Slazenger's family were by his bedside yesterday. "They are very much traumatised by the whole event. They are in a state of shock," he said.

"They are thinking of the Whitney family as well right now -- we'll all be thinking about their tragic loss as a result of the accident. He wasn't a member of the golf club so I didn't personally know the gentleman, but he was a friend of Dr Slazenger's."

Manager of Powerscourt House and Gardens, Maurice Leahy, said the accident was "a disaster for us here" and "very upsetting for everybody".

The AAIU said it was "very early days yet" to determine the cause of the accident or the events leading up to it.

"The wreckage has been inspected and we've done a site survey, but it's too early to make any determinations yet," the spokesman said.

He added that there will be a preliminary report on the accident within a month.

Irish Independent

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