A FLYING school instructor and a trainee pilot were killed after their two-seater plane crashed in a remote field near their local airstrip.
The victims were named locally as instructor Niall Doherty, from Roscrea, Co Tipperary, and Damien Deegan (31), from Crinkle, Co Offaly.
It's understood Mr Doherty was piloting the Cessna 150 and Mr Deegan was a passenger when the plane, registered to the Ormand Flying Club in Birr, Co Offaly, lost contact with air traffic control at Shannon Airport yesterday afternoon.
It's understood the plane, built in 1968, had taken off from Birr Airfield in Co Offaly. It came down close to the airfield in the townland of Clonkelly Upper, Birr, shortly before 5pm.
A member of the public is understood to have contacted the emergency services after seeing it go down.
It was found upside down in a marshy field at 6.30pm following a search by the Garda Air Support unit.
Inaccessible terrain hampered search and rescue efforts and the garda helicopter was deployed. A search and rescue helicopter was also involved.
Rescuers managed to reach the site by foot, but both men were dead when they arrived at the scene.
Their bodies remained in the wreckage last night due to fears over hazardous aviation fuel while investigators from the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) of the Department of Transport tried to determine the cause of the crash.
Jurgen Whyte, chief air accident investigator with the AAIU, said their initial information was that the single-engine plane was about 10 minutes from the airfield when a member of the public saw it go down.
Mr Doherty is a member of a well-known Roscrea family which operates a popular hardware store in the town. A single man, he had two brothers, Gearoid and Anton, and a sister, and was a well-known member of the Roscrea rugby club.
Local Fianna Fail councillor Michael Smith said Mr Doherty's death would come as a huge shock to the town of Roscrea.
"Niall was an experienced pilot and tremendously well-liked and known in the town. It's a terrible shock and our sympathies go out to his family and the family of the other young man who has died," he said.
News of the crash near the village of Crinkle, where Mr Deegan lived with his parents, Michael Brenda, and his sister Mhuire, came as a blow to the tightly-knit village.
Kevin Cooke (32), who was a friend and neighbour, said the entire area is devastated by the tragedy.
Mr Deegan, who was unmarried, was well-known and liked in the area. He was the vice-chairman of the local handball club and was a committee member of the local GAA club where he played hurling.
But his passion was for flying and he had been taking flying lessons for the past two years with the Ormand Flying Club in Birr in order to get his licence.
"He just loved flying and anytime he got a chance, he'd go up in the air," said Mr Cooke.
"He was a fierce nice fella. He was a character but he never had a bad word to say about anyone," he said.