Newtownards plane crash: Flying enthusiasts watch in horror as local pilot plunges to his death in microlight
The victim of the aircraft crash at Newtownards Airfield has been named as Co Down man Stephen McKnight.
The experienced pilot died after the privately-owned microlight plane he was flying alone nose-dived shortly after take-off yesterday morning.
An eyewitness claimed that the aircraft had just climbed into the air when it suddenly banked to the left and plummeted to the ground.
Fire appliances and two ambulances rushed to the Co Down airstrip to remove Mr McKnight from the C12 microlight after it crashed in near perfect flying conditions around 11.25am.
A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Fire Service said he was not trapped in the wreckage.
He was rushed to the Ulster Hospital by paramedics but died there shortly afterwards.
The plane was severely damaged in the crash and is now being examined by a team of experts from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).
The horrific crash is the first fatality at the Newtownards airport in living memory.
Mr McKnight was a married man in his 60s and was flying the aircraft which he co-owned as part of a syndicate group called Newtownards Microlight Group.
It is understood that the microlight was regularly serviced and was a top-of-the-range model.
His death has plunged the aviation community into deep shock as he was a highly regarded and respected member of the Ulster Flying Club which is based at the Ards airport.
Last night John Hughes, chairman of the Ulster Flying Club, declined to comment on the accident as it was under investigation by the police and the AAIB.
However, it is understood that Mr Hughes is the registered trustee of the Newtownards Microlight Group and he described Mr McKnight as "a friend and colleague".
"This is a complete tragedy for the entire flying world," said journalist and pilot Geoff Hill who flies out of the Newtownards Airfield and is editor of Microlight Flying magazine from the British Microlight Aircraft Association.
"Every one of us will be feeling for the man's family," he said.
Flying instructor Gerry Snoddon, who had just landed his aircraft as Mr McKnight was preparing to take off, said: "I was going into the hangar when the accident happened so I didn't actually witness it but it's the most serious accident we have had here ever."
Mr McKnight was also a keen walker and was involved with Dromore Walking Club and is thought to have worked as a driving instructor.
A spokesman for Ulster Federation of Rambling Clubs confirmed that Mr McKnight was a popular member of the walking fraternity.
"Our condolences and thoughts go out to his family," he said.
Newtownards Ulster Unionist MP Jim Shannon said that the members of the Ulster Flying Club were shocked about the accident.
He added: "This is a guy that they know. It is a very close club. He had many years of flying experience."
Strangford Alliance MLA Kieran McCarthy also expressed his shock at Mr McKnight's death.
He said: "I would like to express my condolences to the family and friends of this man."
Newtownards airport was closed to facilitate the AAIB investigation and will remain shut until it is completed.