Sunday 22 July 2018

Pilot fatigue may have been a factor in fuel-starved plane crash that killed two

Niall Doherty
Niall Doherty
Wreckage of the crashed plane
Damien Deegan
Breda Heffernan

Breda Heffernan

AN investigation into a light aircraft crash in which a flight instructor and his trainee pilot were both killed has found that fatigue may have been a factor.

Instructor Niall Doherty and Damien Deegan, both aged 31, died when the two-seater Cessna crashed near Birr Airfield in Co Offaly on November 11 last year.

A probe by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) found that there was not enough fuel in the tanks when the engine cut out, leading to the crash shortly before 5pm.

The plane had been used for five training flights earlier that day and last refuelled after the end of the third flight at 2pm.

Another student pilot, who completed his training run just prior to Mr Deegan beginning his, said the aircraft climbed to less than 200ft when there was a "roar" from the engine, which then went quiet.

The Cessna made a steep descending turn, before disappearing from view.

A garda helicopter used a thermal-imaging camera to locate the wreckage in scrubland 350 metres from the airfield.

Mr Doherty, from Ballinakill, Co Tipperary, and Mr Deegan, from Crinkle, Birr, Co Offaly, were fatally injured.

Investigators found that the engine suffered a power loss due to "fuel starvation". They estimated that the plane had just 9.6 litres of fuel left, less than the minimum of 13.25 litres recommended by the manufacturer.

The aircraft, which was owned by Ormand Flying Club and used to provide flight training out of Birr Airfield, had landed with inadequate fuel reserves on a number of occasions in the previous month.

Investigators also concluded that fatigue may have been a factor in the accident and pointed out that Mr Doherty had already carried out over five hours of flight training that day, with little break between flights.

"The combination of travelling from Dublin, followed by five disparate training details prior to the accident detail, could have induced a level of fatigue in the instructor.

"To what extent fatigue may have played a part in a miscalculation regarding fuel management or events following the engine power loss cannot be assessed," it added.


It said Mr Doherty may have undertaken the last flight with Mr Deegan "to try and give all his students flights that day".

The AAIU also criticised the level of supervision and oversight of the Ormand Flying Club, saying it was "inadequate".

It pointed to inadequate fuel planning, which resulted in some flights operating with less than the reserve fuel.

The chief flying instructor at Ormand Flying Club told investigators that fuel levels were determined by using dipsticks only, as the aircraft's fuel gauges could not be trusted.

Irish Independent

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