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Thursday 23 November 2017

Powerscourt owner critical, one dead, in plane crash

Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Sportswear heir and owner of the Powerscourt estate Dr Michael Slazenger was fighting for his life in a Dublin hospital last night after a plane crash on a private airstrip on the estate.

The 69-year-old retired anaesthetist is in a critical condition after being taken to Tallaght Hospital and later transferred to St James's Hospital with what were described as extensive burns.

His passenger, a 66-year-old man who has not yet been named but is believed to be from south Dublin, was killed instantly.

The accident happened when their light aircraft was engulfed in a fireball after hitting a tree close to the upmarket Powerscourt golf club and crashed on to the airstrip as horrified golfers looked on.

A consultant doctor who had been playing golf at the time rushed to the scene and administered first aid to the two men.

Sources say the two men boarded the plane to take a pleasure flight to see the stunning estate and gardens outside Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.

The accident happened at 3.10pm yesterday and emergency services including gardai, ambulance and coastguard responded immediately to an alert.

Dr Slazenger was treated at the scene before being airlifted to hospital.

The two were travelling in a single-engine two-seater aircraft and it is believed that Mr Slazenger, who has a pilot's licence, was flying the Irish-registered plane.

The Slazenger family are heirs to the famous sportswear brand which carries their name and which is the foundation of the family fortune.

Their father Ralph came to Ireland in 1953 when he bought Durrow Abbey in Co Laois.

A keen aviation enthusiast, he moved to the 4,000-acre Powerscourt estate in 1961 which had been in the family of Lord Powerscourt for several centuries. The famous house was built in the 1740s.

Dr Michael Slazenger had celebrated his 21st birthday in the great Palladian ballroom of Powerscourt.

But tragedy struck in 1974 when Powerscourt House was burned to the ground in a huge fire which engulfed the building and destroyed irreplaceable paintings, furniture and artefacts.

The doctor was living in Ballsbridge, Dublin, when his mother phoned him in the middle of the night to tell him that the house was on fire.

Although firemen and estate workers did their best and saved some of the valuables, the building was reduced to a smoking shell.

The family worked tirelessly to restore a wing of the house but Ralph and Gwendoline left Ireland for the Isle of Man in the Eighties after they were victims of an armed robbery at the estate.

Ralph Slazenger died at the age of 91 and his body was brought back to Powerscourt for burial in the family tomb in 2006.

It was left to Michael Slazenger and other members of the family to restore the great house in the years that followed.

They did it by opening garden centres and shops, land was sold for a golf course and in recent years property tycoon Johnny Ronan built the Ritz Carlton hotel in an unobtrusive site near the house.

In addition to the gardens, waterfall and restored folly known as Pepperpot Tower, Powerscourt now encompasses a commercial nursery, garden centre, golf club and courses, holiday apartments, conference rooms and a wedding marquee.

Several members of the extended Slazenger family including Michael's brother Peter and his sister Wendy are still directors of Powerscourt Estaste.

John David Slazenger and Sarah Margaret Slazenger are heavily involved in the family business and have attracted A-list guests such as Tom Cruise and David Bowie to the house.

Michael Slazenger, who was born in January, 1941 qualified as a medical doctor and worked in St Vincent's Hospital as well as being centrally involved in running the Powerscourt Estate.

He lived near the famous waterfall, which is part of the huge estate, and which also includes thousands of acres of Wicklow mountains.

Mr Slazenger kept a low profile but he is well known in Dublin business and medical circles.

He was a neighbour of former president Mary Robinson and her husband Nick when he lived at Dublin's Wellington place.

In the past he described how he enjoys a game of tennis "after a fashion" but, as owner of the Co Wicklow estate, decided to turn his attentions to golf where he eventually became president of the club.

This weekend friends and business associates described him as "an absolute gentleman".

Gardai were refusing last night to give any details of the man who was killed in the crash until members of his family had been informed.

Speaking about the Powerscourt house, which is now open to the public all year round, Dr Slazenger recently summed up his feelings on his accomplishment of rebuilding his home to its former glory, saying: "It's like riding a juggernaut, really -- on and on it goes."

Mr Slazenger's family are keeping a round-the-clock vigil by his side this weekend.

Sunday Independent

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