'I heard an explosion in the sky... the plane was coming down nose first and breaking up in the air'
The plane in which two men were killed when it crashed on Sunday evening suffered a catastrophic failure in mid-air and began to break up as it nose-dived to the ground, an eyewitness has said.
Peter Tawse (61), from Old Ross, Co Wexford, and John Finnan (52), from Athy, Co Kildare, died when the light aircraft they were in crashed at Gibletstown near Duncormick in Co Wexford at 5.40pm.
Mr Tawse was a respected flight instructor who once worked as manager of Waterford Airport.
Mr Finnan was senior research officer in the Teagasc Crops Research Department in Oak Park, Co Carlow.
Neighbours said he was keen on gliding and flying.
The men were in a two-seater Rollason Condor with the identity marker EI-BDX.
Farmer Michael Doran had been milking his cows when the tragedy happened.
"I noticed the plane circling in the sky. Everything seemed to be fine and I didn't pay much heed to it because we're used to planes coming and going from the airfield," he said from his home at Johnstown, Duncormick.
"But after the milking I came out and I heard something like an explosion in the sky. It was like a lawnmower backfiring, and then I looked up and saw the plane coming down twirling slightly nose first and breaking up in the air.
"I phoned the emergency services and drove to where I thought it came down, and I could see the wing section lying out across the laneway.
"The plane was upside down across a ditch but the wreckage was spread over two or three fields, maybe about 20 acres in area.
"There was no sign of smoke or fire, no flames even though I thought there would have been," he added.
"I had hoped that when I got to the plane I could have helped the people on board, but sadly it wasn't to be."
The two-seater aircraft took off from an airfield at Ardinagh, Taghmon, a short distance from the crash site.
The Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) spent yesterday examining the scene of the crash and collecting the smashed parts of the plane.
"The aircraft parts were spread over a wide area, and the terrain is boggy and marshy," an AAIU spokesman said.
Efforts were under way yesterday to bring the remains of the plane to an AAIU depot for further examination to determine the cause of the crash.
The bodies of Mr Tawse and Mr Finnan were brought to University Hospital Waterford for post mortem examinations.
Colleagues of Mr Finnan paid tribute to him on learning of his sudden death.
"It is with the deepest regret and sadness that we heard that our dear colleague and friend John Finnan was on board the plane. Our thoughts and prayers are with John's family, his parents and his three sisters, at this time of loss," said John Spink, head of crops, environment and land use programme at the Teagasc offices where John worked.
"John was a senior research officer in the Crops Research Department in Oak Park, Carlow. His publication record was second to none and will leave a lasting legacy in Ireland and across Europe. John was a fantastic colleague and friend, and a mentor to many PhD students. It was an honour and privilege to know and work with John and we remember a colleague who was such a positive influence on people's lives."