Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland air crash horror: Pilot was highly experienced, says flying instructor

By Brett Campbell

The plane that crashed in Co Antrim and killed two people on board yesterday was flown by a highly competent commercial pilot with significant flying experience.

Last night a flying instructor at the Ulster Flying Club (UFC) in Newtownards, where the plane is believed to have taken off from, said pilots from around the UK had been in contact to express their shock and offer their sympathy.

"This has sent shockwaves around the world of aviation, it's a terrible tragedy and everyone will be keen to find out what happened," they said.

"It's so sad for these two people's families and has upset everyone - people from the Republic of Ireland and throughout the UK have been in touch and they will want to know what went wrong so they can be assured of their own safety."

It is understood the pilot occasionally rented the American two-seater Cessna 152 aircraft from the UFC.

The instructor said he did so again yesterday along with a photographer.

"He was a very experienced pilot and he was flying a plane with an excellent safety record - they are serviced every 50 hours."

The particular aircraft has been out of production for over 30 years but has a strong reputation for being safe and durable.

The UFC said the plane was shipped to Northern Ireland from the US a few years ago before being totally re-serviced and installed with new engines.

The devastated instructor, with over 30 years flying experience, said the Cessnas were sourced in San Diego in 2015 and were around 10 years old at the time.

"It was stripped back, with around £70,000 spent on replacing every single feature," they said. "It was deliberately sought from California because the dry and sunny conditions meant it would have minimal wear and tear, including rust damage.

"They are the best aircraft for training pilots in and have an excellent record when it comes to accidents - that's why the club was willing to spend so much money."

The instructor said that while the tragedy is heartbreaking for all flyers, everyone takes consolation from the fact that accidents are a very rare occurrence.

"We will all eagerly await the results of an investigation which will already be under way," they added. "They will find out exactly what happened."

Another instructor said the final movements of the aircraft would "almost certainly" indicate that someone was taking photos when it crashed.

"They would have been over on one wing and if you let the speed decay at all you would simply fall out of the sky."

Last night UFC Aerodrome manager Rodney Pritchard refused to go into details but confirmed he was with Air Accident Investigation Branch experts. "These were our friends," he added.

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