Two friends have died following a horrific air crash in which their small plane crashed into a remote field.
An investigation is under way into the fatal incident near Athy, Co Kildare, on Thursday evening which claimed the lives of James Price (70) and Aidan Rowsome (58).
The two men, who were both pilots, were the only passengers on board the single-engine BRM NG5 aircraft when it failed to return to Kilrush airfield.
The aircraft had departed from the runway at around 7pm, and was due to land at the same airfield later that evening.
However, the families of both men became concerned when they failed to return home.
Gardaí were alerted at around 1am yesterday and a major emergency response was launched involving the Marine Co-ordination Centre, the Irish Coast Guard and Air Traffic Control (ATC).
A location for the plane's last known position was identified by ATC controllers, which recorded the aircraft as being near the Belan area of Athy, Co Kildare, at around 7.20pm on Thursday evening.
A ground search involving gardaí was carried out while the Coast Guard helicopter, Rescue 116, was also dispatched.
The aeroplane's wreckage was found at around 4.30am along with the two deceased.
Rescuers said there was no debris at the scene or any immediate indication why the craft crashed.
"It looked like the craft just literally dropped out of the sky like a stone," one said.
Plane enthusiasts Mr Price, from Ballinteer, Co Dublin, and Mr Rowsome, from Kildare town, were pronounced dead at the scene.
A senior source said that it is too early to speculate on the cause of the crash and that a lengthy investigation would be conducted by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU).
It is understood that as of yet no witnesses have come forward and investigators may have to rely primarily on the wreckage itself to establish the cause of the fatal crash.
The aircraft has been described as "very new and very modern". The former owner of the aircraft, a UK national, last night told the Irish Independent he was "very shocked" when he heard the plane had crashed, as it didn't have any problems when he owned it.
He had sold the aircraft to a Dublin man earlier this year and believed it was to be used by a group.
He also said agents for the manufacturers of the light aircraft contacted him yesterday to inform him of the accident.
Speaking at the scene, Kildare Superintendent Martin Walker said that the bodies of both men had been moved to Naas General Hospital where a post mortem was due to be carried out yesterday afternoon.
"When emergency personal arrived at the scene, two males, one in their 70s and one in their 50s, were pronounced dead," Supt Walker said.
"The AAIU have primacy on this investigation and we are here to assist and preserve the scene until they have finished their enquiries."
AAIU Inspector Howard Hughes said the investigation must be "careful and methodical" to avoid the risk of spoiling potential evidence.
"What we do now is a field investigation, following that we recover the wreckage, which is the process that is going on now, to our facility in Gormanstown where we will determine what further steps need to be taken in terms of examining the aircraft's structure, the engine, the engine components," he said.
The Irish Aviation Authority has said that it is supporting the AAIU investigation and offered its sincere condolences to the families of the deceased. It refused to comment on the incident, due to it being an ongoing investigation.
Local Fine Gael Councillor Ivan Keatley claimed that one of the men involved in the crash was a flight instructor but that news was still "filtering through."
"I know they are not locals to the area, one is from Kildare town and the other is from Dublin," he said.