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Pilot killed in Cessna mountain crash 'may have misjudged flying height'

Published 26/10/2016

Blackstairs mountains
Blackstairs mountains

A pilot who died with his friend when their light aircraft crashed into a mountain may have misjudged how high he should have been flying, investigators have said.

Paul Smith, 57, from Rathmore near Athboy, Co Meath, was with 69-year-old Bryan Keane, from Williamstown, near Kells, and their two dogs, on May 24 2015 when the collision happened in poor visibility.

They were flying a US-registered Cessna 182 to a breakfast fly-in at an airfield near Taghmon in Co Wexford when it crashed on the southern ridge of Blackstairs Mountain on the Carlow border.

Experts with the state's Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) said other pilots making trips to the same airfield either changed their flight paths or diverted to another airfield after spotting low cloud, drizzle, rain or poor visibility.

"The pilot may not have appreciated the extent and elevation of the southern ridge of Blackstairs," the report found.

It added: "The safest and simp lest course of action was to deviate around the high terrain and maintain Visual Meteorological Conditions."

The light aircraft crashed on a steep rocky slope near the top of the ridge - about 2,150 feet up but around 300 feet lower than the summit.

Other pilots making similar journeys reported cloud as low as 800-1000 feet in the area of the crash.

The AAIU said a map covering the flight was found among the wreckage of the Cessna but it did it not include data on the height of the peak at Blackstairs.

"An estimate of the height of Blackstairs Mountain can only be made by reference to the colour coding of elevation contours," the report said.

Investigators found the pilot had put the Cessna into a climb - about 150 feet a minute - about 10 nautical miles from the southern ridge of Blackstairs and about five minutes before the crash is suspected to have happened.

They said the rate of climb was below the Cessna's capability and was done at a faster airspeed than recommended.

The AAIU said it was an "unsafe flight path".

"The rate of climb selected was not sufficient to provide safe terrain clearance and all evidence indicates that the aircraft impacted terrain in controlled flight and under normal control and that there was no attempt to alter the aircraft's flight path prior to impact," it added.

Both men were experienced pilots, AAIU investigators said.

The wreckage of the Cessna was discovered by chance by a hillwalker about four hours after the crash, the AAIU report said.

Other pilots who had made their way to the airfield near Taghmon raised the alarm after they realised Mr Smyth and Mr Keane were late.

No safety recommendations were made in the AAIU report.

Press Association

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