Flying school criticised after fatal crash
Air accident investigators today hit out at a private flight school, branding its supervision of instructors unsatisfactory, after two men were killed in a training flight.
Colm Clancy, 34, from Derrybeg in west Donegal, and his 24-year-old student, Dermot Sheridan, of Co Clare, died after their helicopter struck power lines 30ft off the ground in April last year.
The rotor blades were ripped from the aircraft as it plummeted to the ground at a bog near Kilshanchoe in Co Kildare. Investigators said nobody could have survived the crash.
The pair took off from the small, privately run Weston Airport for a lesson at 4pm on April 1 but the European Helicopter Academy, which runs the course, only realised the aircraft was missing the following morning when the alarm was raised by family members.
The Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) found the operations office at the flight school closed while the helicopter was on the training run - contributing to the alert not being raised until the following day.
Investigators also said Mr Clancy was overseeing an exercise that should have been done at the airfield as it required the helicopter to slip below the 500 ft minimum safety height requirement.
"The combination of the lack of flight following of the training aircraft and the fact that the instructor was performing an exercise that should have been carried out at the base airfield, indicates to the investigation that the level of oversight by the Flight Training Organisation (FTO) on its instructors was unsatisfactory," the final investigators' report found.
The Schweizer 269C-1 helicopter struck power cables attached to wooden poles 30ft off the ground at speed while performing an exercise known as autorotation, where the main rotor system is being turned by air and not the engine.
Investigators found the flight school's operations office closed at 4.30pm, with no entry made on official records showing who was on board the helicopter, when it had left and was due to return, and what exercises it would carrying out.
Air Traffic Control at Weston Airport closed its watch system three hours later, assuming the helicopter had landed in Cork as it had done the previous day, according to the investigators' report.
As the operations office had already closed, no alarm was raised.
Emergency services were contacted on April 2 when Mr Clancy's relatives became concerned and got in touch with the gardai, Weston and the flight school.
An Irish Coast Guard helicopter was scrambled and the crash site was found at 11.27am.
"Although the student had booked a training slot, there was no written record at the FTO of the flight having departed, as no entry was made in the booking out sheet," the report noted.
"This omission made the status of the helicopter unclear the following day when family members made enquiries."
The report said pilots are required to pass to Air Traffic Control the details of their route, type of exercise and the number of people on board. The only details passed to the ATC were that the aircraft was requesting permission to start its engine and that it was ready to lift.
Investigators said ATC accepted this to mean that the flight was not returning.
The report found that while weather was not a factor in the accident, the power-line layout, low sun and reflective glare from water below would have made it difficult for the pair to see the power lines.
Investigators recommended that the Irish Aviation Authority develop a suitable awareness campaign to inform pilots of the potential hazards of cable strikes.
The AAIU is investigating six cable strikes that have occurred within the past year.
"As such it is considered appropriate that an awareness campaign be developed to inform general aviation pilots on the potential hazards of cable strikes," the report said.