Thursday 22 March 2018

'I saw the smoke and knew it was too late' - friend of crash pilot

Rescue crews at the scene of the crash
Rescue crews at the scene of the crash
The final photo of tragic pilot Howard Cox (67), who was pictured on Saturday as he travelled to Foynes

David Raleigh and Sam Griffin

A close friend of a pilot who died when his mini-jet crash landed at the weekend has revealed how he was the first to raise the alarm after he saw "fire and smoke" at the crash site.

Gerry Humphreys was flying just a few minutes behind pilot and engineer Howard Cox (67) when he witnessed the devastating scene in the townland of Garrabane, north of Dungarvan in Co Waterford, on Saturday evening.

Mr Cox, a father-of-one from Devon in the UK, was due to take part in yesterday's Foynes Airshow but lost his life in the crash.

He was a regular visitor to Ireland and had been based here for the last number of days ahead of the airshow, where Mr Cox and his James Bond inspired BD5 mini-jet were set to be one of the main attractions.

Mr Cox and Mr Humphreys were both flying from Waterford Airport to Shannon Airport, where they were due to meet up with another pilot from Shannon when tragedy struck.

Mr Humphreys, who is also director of the airshow, said: "I was with Howard when he was killed. I was in another airplane five minutes behind him."

"I saw the fire and the smoke. I flew over the top (of the crash site). There was nothing I could do."

He added: "I called mayday for him, and I realised he was a goner. That was it, really. His wife is devastated."

Mr Cox is survived by his wife Elizabeth, whose family has connections with Co Waterford, and their son Peter.

An experienced aviator and engineer, he had built the BD5 jet himself. With its red exterior and missile look, the craft was unmistakable and had been set to star at yesterday's airshow, which went ahead at the request of his family and was dedicated to Mr Cox.

"He was going to perform a low pass over the crowd ... and there would have been a screaming sound from the engine. As I understand it, he didn't do stunts in it. The plane's sheer look and speed and its loudness was what enthralled people," said a source.

A similar BD5 with a pure jet engine installed was used in the James Bond film 'Octopussy'.

There was a minute silence at the event at 1pm yesterday in memory of Mr Cox, who was due to make his second appearance after also taking part in the inaugural show last year.

More than 15,000 people were expected at the show along the Shannon Estuary.

The show's organisers paid tribute to Mr Cox in a statement.

"The organisers would like to express their deepest condolences to the pilot's family, who have requested that we proceed with the airshow. We have decided to proceed with the show and dedicate the event to our colleague's memory," Mr Humphreys said.

Mr Cox had taken friend John Drysdale - who took the last-ever photo of the pilot in the cockpit on Saturday afternoon - and his children for a flight in another plane just a few hours before the crash.

It's understood people in Waterford spotted Mr Cox's plane flying very low shortly before the accident and could see he was in trouble.

Emergency services attended the scene and his body was taken to Waterford Regional Hospital for a post-mortem.

The Air Accident Investigation Unit is investigating.

Irish Independent

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