'Pure bad luck' behind death of pilot (84) after plane's engine cut out

David Ryan (84) died when his home-built plane struck a tree

Ralph Riegel

A vastly experienced pilot from Dublin died when his home-built plane struck a tree during an emergency landing attempt, after his engine cut out due to icing problems.

David Ryan (84) was a lifelong aviation enthusiast and had spent 15 years building his Rutan single-engine aircraft in Dublin, which he then flew around Ireland.

Waterford coroner Dr Eoin Maughan said Mr Ryan was a remarkable man who enjoyed excellent health and was still flying his beloved aircraft at 84 years old.


"It was just pure back luck that he got into a situation like that. He just ran out of options," he said.

Dr Maughan returned a verdict of accidental death.

Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) official Leo Murray said it was most likely that the engine of Mr Ryan's plane was affected by a dangerous build-up of ice as he flew toward west Waterford at around 4pm on March 27 last year.

He said the meteorological conditions off Dungarvan that day meant there was a high probability of a build-up of ice.

"Once ice builds up in the throat of the carburettor it just gets worse," he added.

The AAIU official said Mr Ryan was a hugely experienced pilot.

"He was the most experienced pilot in the country for that type of plane," he said.

Just minutes after taking off from Waterford Airport on March 27, 2017, the pensioner, from Sandymount, issued a Mayday.

Several people on the ground reported hearing the sound of an engine like a lawnmower, which was "fluctuating" or revving up and then suddenly easing back.

Eyewitnesses, including Paudie Crotty, and Tom Feehily heard what they suspected were engine problems.

"The engine was fluttering - it didn't sound right," Mr Crotty said.

Mr Feehily said he heard three loud backfires from the engine before the motor appeared to cut out.

Oil delivery man Tommy Moroney spotted what he initially thought was a model aircraft flying overhead. He was then horrified to see the plane hit trees in the distance.

"There was debris all over the place. There was a man lying on the ground under a tree," he said.

University Hospital Waterford pathologist Dr Nigam Shah said Mr Ryan would have died almost instantly from multiple injuries.

Mr Ryan's daughter, Gillian O'Loughlin, confirmed that she identified her father's body to emergency services in Waterford that day.

"He was full of life - he had a good 10 years ahead of him," she said.

Mr Ryan's son, David Jnr, said: "Flying was his dream, and he died doing what he loved best."