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Man in court after going shopping in helicopter

A businessman who landed his helicopter on the roof of a multi-storey car park next to a busy shopping centre intends to "fully defend" his actions.

Sean O'Brien (49) from The Island, Ballycumber, Co Offaly, took an unorthodox route to collect newly cut keys for his chopper by landing on the roof of the car park in Athlone town centre, Co Westmeath.

The pilot, who was accompanied by his brother in the single-engine Hughes 369HS helicopter, appeared before a sitting of Athlone District Court yesterday. On July 7, 2007, Mr O'Brien landed his helicopter at the Parkrite Texas Centre in St Mary's Place, Athlone, contrary to Irish aviation rules.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) has summonsed him for operating a helicopter in a "negligent" or "reckless manner so as to endanger life or property in a manner that was hazardous to person and property".

The IAA completed an Air Accident Investigation Report which found that the pilot showed "poor airmanship".

It stated that Mr O'Brien had been getting keys cut for the door of his helicopter 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."

Air Accident Investigator Paddy Judge said the shopping centre, which was open for business at the time, should have been "completely avoided" for "obvious safety reasons".

The report also stated that a car park attendant said he attempted to wave the helicopter away as it approached for landing. "The attendant stated, as the helicopter continued to land, he then took refuge behind a door where he was injured by the helicopter's main rotor downwash.

"He stated that the helicopter had landed on the roof some months previously and his supervisor told him afterwards that this was not allowed."

However, the pilot claimed the car park attendant was not on the roof while he was landing and only approached the helicopter on engine shutdown.

The duty manager of the Texas Department Store, a shop unit within the centre, stated that he had given the pilot permission to land but was "unaware" at the time he did not have the authority to do so.

Judge William Earley adjourned the case to a sitting of Athlone District Court on November 24.

Belfast Telegraph


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