Sportswear heir Michael Slazenger tried to take evasive action as he ran into difficulty while attempting to land the small aircraft that crashed in Co Wicklow on Saturday, killing his passenger.
Last night, his family were praying by his bedside as he continued his fight for survival following the “horrific” accident.
The Slazengers are heirs to the famous sportswear brand that carries their name and is the foundation of the family fortune. An experienced pilot, Dr Slazenger moved to the 4,000-acre estate which has been in the family for several centuries, in 1961.
The 69-year-old retired anaesthetist was in a critical condition at St James's Hospital in Dublin last night with what were described as extensive burns.
His passenger in the Falco aircraft, 66-year-old businessman Noel Whitney, from Killiney, was killed instantly in the crash.
Mr Whitney owned engineering company Quantum Leap in Killiney. Last night, his daughter Debbie said the family was distraught.
“It's not a good time. At the moment, everybody is grieving too much to talk about it,” she said.
A spokesman for the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) confirmed yesterday that Dr Slazenger was piloting the small aircraft when it went down.
“We think he was trying to land when a go-around was attempted. The accident occurred during that,” he said.
“This is when, if you can't land for any reason, you try to climb away. We think that's what he was doing.”
A garda source described the scene which met emergency services as they arrived at the crash site. “There was fire and wreckage everywhere — it was a horrific scene to find,” he said.
The general manager of the Powerscourt Golf Club, Bernard Gibbons, said the whole estate was in shock yesterday.
“Dr Slazenger takes the plane out when the weather suits and Saturday was a nice day for a flight,” he said.
“The plane was trying to land for a second time when the right wing clipped a bush. The plane flipped over and nose-dived into the field beyond the runway.
“The craft exploded on impact but he survived the explosion and managed to get out.
“He was by the plane when the rescuers got there. He had managed to free himself.”
Mr Gibbons said several golfers on the course rushed over to try and help the two men.
The AAIU said it was “very early days yet” to determine the cause of the accident or the events leading up to it.