A family of three and a teenage friend perished after a tiny light aircraft crashed into one of the most inaccessible parts of the Wicklow mountains.
The wreckage of the Piper PA-28 Cherokee single-engined aircraft was found in a Wicklow bog yesterday morning after disappearing off the radar at lunchtime on Saturday.
The victims were named locally as pilot Sharif Booz, his wife Margaret, who is from Newbridge in Co Kildare, and teenage son Ayman. A fourth victim, believed to be a friend of Ayman's, has not been named.
Emergency crew members recovered four bodies from the wreckage of the light aircraft.
Gardai confirmed that the remains of a mother, father, teenage son and his friend were discovered at Corriebracks.
It is understood that Mr Booz, an experienced pilot with several years' experience, had closed his flight plan -- telling Dublin air traffic controllers he was about to land -- as he made his final approach to Kilrush airfield in Co Kildare.
Had he left the flight plan open, the alarm would have been raised within half an hour of the plane going missing.
Mr Booz, who is understood to be in his 40s, left Gloucestershire Airport in his UK-registered aircraft shortly before 10am on Saturday for Kilrush airfield. His family and friend were travelling to Ireland for a weekend visit to his in-laws.
Dublin Air Traffic Control stopped monitoring their light aircraft shortly after 12.15pm, and it was last sighted over the Wicklow mountains shortly before 12.30pm -- about 20 miles from Kilrush airfield.
At 6pm, Ian Valentine, the airfield's operator, was contacted by a family member to see if the plane had landed. The family member immediately raised the alarm and a search was initiated.
It was called off as darkness fell, but a party of at least 40 people resumed the search at first light yesterday in the mountainous area from Corriebracks to Lobawn to Sugarloaf, which stretches south of the Blessington Lakes as far as the Glen of Imaal.
At 10am the aircraft was spotted at Corriebracks, near Hollywood, and two gardai and two paramedics were airlifted to the site, which is inaccessible by road.
Superintendent Michael Lernihan, who co-ordinated the search, said the nose and front part of the plane was embedded in the ground and would have to be dug out.
Operator of Kilrush airfield, Ian Valentine, yesterday said the pilot had been using the strip for the last six or seven years to visit relatives in Newbridge.
Mr Valentine said Mr Booz, understood to be from Egypt, was an experienced pilot who visited Ireland at least twice a year and had texted him earlier this week to say he expected to come to Ireland at the weekend.
But Mr Valentine said he would normally receive a call from the pilot the morning he was due to arrive, but that did not happen in this instance.
"The pilot texted me earlier in the week to say they'd be in on the weekend," Mr Valentine told the Irish Independent. "Normally I'd get a phone call on the morning but didn't get one. We're a private airfield with two or three flights a week, we're a grass airstrip so it's very weather dependent," he said.
"We didn't know until 6pm last night when the family contacted me to see if the plane landed. He closed his flight plan, which means he left everyone. Once he closes the flight plan it means he says he's okay and is going to land. If he hadn't the alarm would have been raised within half an hour."
The family, who lived at Church View in the village of Almondsbury near Bristol, were well-known in the area. Mr Booz, a Muslim, was involved in property development and the family was very supportive of the Church of England St Mary's Church in the village. His wife Margaret was a Catholic.
"Obviously this is a very sad occasion," a church spokeswoman said. "They're very well known. They are both very supportive of the church and everything in the village, and there's going to be quite a lot of sadness about this."
The Department of Transport Air Accident Investigation Unit confirmed that the four victims were taken to Naas General Hospital shortly before 4pm yesterday. The remains of the aircraft will be taken to Gormanstown in Co Meath for technical examination.
The Air Accident Investigation Unit is likely to ask its UK counterparts to take part in the probe.