Pilot who landed in car park 'displayed poor airmanship'
It could only happen in the movies... just as the helicopter pilot attempts to bring his craft into land, out rushes a car park attendant, frantically trying to wave him away. But that's what happened in the central shopping area of Athlone Town when a gung-ho pilot decided to take an unorthodox route to collect his newly cut keys and landed on the roof of an adjacent multi-storey car park on July 8, 2007.
The 48-year-old pilot has been criticised for "poor airmanship" and for having broken Irish air law.
The attendant injured his hand when the downwash from the helicopter's main rotor caused a door to slam against it and the single-engine craft should not have been put down in a congested area because of the danger of engine failure, the pilot was told.
The Irish Aviation Authority said last night that it was reviewing the incident and the pilot may face sanction in the future. However, he has not faced any repercussions for his actions to date.
"In landing at such a site the pilot displayed poor airmanship," concluded air accident investigator Paddy Judge in his report. Despite repeated requests, both by phone and letter, the pilot did not complete and return an air accident report on the incident.
The Air Accident Investigation Report says the pilot, who was accompanied by his brother in the single-engine Hughes 369HS helicopter, was getting some keys cut for the door of his aircraft at the Texas Department Store.
"He landed on the roof of the adjacent multi-storey car park. It is unclear to the investigation where the helicopter could have been safely force-landed in the event of an engine failure during landing or take-off.
"It is also probable that the approach was made over the unstressed roof of the shopping centre due to the location of the church to the north of the landing site," the report said.
"The shopping centre was open for business at the time, and for obvious safety reasons, the area should have been completely avoided."
Mr Judge described the landing site as being in a congested area and "furthermore, and importantly, it is an elevated site where Rescue and Fire Fighting Services are mandatory. Neither was available".
The report says the pilot's US licence was issued in March 2007, just four months before the incident.
"The pilot stated that he has about 150 hours helicopter flying experience, but was unable to supply a logbook, which he stated was lost in a subsequent accident."
In evidence, the car park attendant said that as the helicopter approached for landing he attempted to wave it away.
"The helicopter pilot ignored him and he had to duck into the doorway... as space on the roof is restricted. The downwash from the main rotor caused the door to slam back against him hitting his hand."
Words were exchanged between the attendant and the pilot after the landing.
The gardai were called, but by the time they arrived the helicopter had left.
The attendant said the helicopter had landed on the roof some months previously and his supervisor told him afterwards that this was not allowed
The pilot said he had landed there before accompanied by the owner of the shopping centre who had given him permission to land on the car park roof.
That day, he rang the duty manager of the shopping centre before taking off to confirm that he had permission to land. He was unaware that the duty manager no longer had authority to grant him permission to land.
The pilot said the car park attendant was not on the roof while he was landing and only approached the helicopter on engine shutdown.
He said that the attendant could not have given signals, as he was not present until after landing.