Newtownards plane crash: 'A good pilot and a nice, sociable chap' - Ulster Flying Club tribute to airfield victim
The chairman of the Ulster Flying Club has said the death of an amateur pilot in a light aircraft crash has given his colleagues "pause for thought".
Stephen McKnight (55) was alone in his microlight plane when it nose-dived shortly after take-off at Newtownards Airfield on Tuesday morning.
The father-of-two from Culcavy, Co Down, was rushed to the Ulster Hospital with critical injuries following the accident but later died.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, John Hughes paid tribute to Mr McKnight, who, he said, was a friend and an experienced flier.
"He was a good pilot and a really nice, sociable chap," said Mr Hughes. "We were horrified when we heard the news about the crash. As pilots, we all know what we do is dangerous. By remembering it's dangerous is the only way you help yourself. But when something like this happens so close to home it knocks you for six."
This has given all of us pause for thought. We are concerned for his family and their loss and we want to do anything we can to help them in any way."
Mr Hughes said that he and a number of pilots rushed to the scene of the crash during which the two-seater microlight C12 was badly damaged.
The plane was removed from the airfield yesterday and the accident is being investigated by the police and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch. Newtownards Airport will remain shut until the probe is complete.
Mr McKnight, a former police officer-turned-driving instructor, had worked for Acclaim Driving Academy for the past five years.
Its director, Elaine Cummings, last night said the thoughts of management and staff were with Mr McKnight's family.
"We were very shocked and saddened by the news," she said.
"We still can't believe it. It was so sudden and unexpected.
It is understood that Mr McKnight had recently beaten prostate cancer and was given the all-clear last Christmas.
Family and friends have been comforting his wife, Roslyn, and two sons, Michael and Gavin, at their home in Co Down in the wake of the tragedy.
The aircraft, which was a regularly serviced, top-of-the-range model, was co-owned by Mr McKnight as part of a syndicate group called Newtownards Microlight Group. Flying instructor Ken Crompton, who has used Newtownards airfield for the past three decades, said: "We have never had a severe accident like this before."