independent

Friday 13 December 2019

Tragedy as two killed in air crash near Duncormick

Pilot Peter Tawse who lost his life in the crash
Pilot Peter Tawse who lost his life in the crash
An ambulance at the scene of the air crash on Sunday evening
The plane took off from the ILAS airfield at Ardinagh, Taghmon

Pádraig Byrne

The peace and tranquillity of a sunny October morning yesterday (Monday) belied the terrible scenes that had unfolded just a few hours previously on the winding rural roads of Duncormick as Gardaí and County Council staff working shifts blocked off all roads towards the scene of a devastating plane crash that cost two lives.

Just before 6 p.m. on Sunday evening a light aircraft carrying two men got into difficulty and collided with the ground near the townsland of Gibletstown.

The men, named as experienced pilot Peter Tawse (61) from the Old Ross area and 58 year-old John Finnan from Naas, Co Kildare, were both killed instantly when their Rollason Condor hit the ground having taken off from the Irish Light Aviation Society (ILAS) airfield at Ardinagh, Taghmon a short time previously. Locals reported hearing the loud bang from the incident and debris was left scattered over a distance of around a mile.

Emergency services quickly descended on the area as locals emerged from their homes shocked by what had transpired. It is believed that a local woman in her sixties was among the first to have come across the scene.

Two units of Wexford Fire Brigade accompanied by the rostered senior fire officer were at the scene in minutes and provided assistance to Gardaí and paramedics in removing the two occupants of the aircraft to University Hospital Waterford. The fire crews also assisted the Gardaí and the Coastguard in conducting a detailed search of the entire area, which included the use of thermal imaging. There were no others aboard the aircraft and there were no reports of any other casualties in the area.

The bodies of the two men were discovered some distance from each other. One man was found near the roadway, while the other was found with the main wreckage of the aircraft a field away. The Air Accident Investigation unit arrived at the scene on Sunday night and yesterday (Monday) enquiries were carried out in a bid to talk to anyone who may have seen the ill-fated plane going down.

As of yesterday afternoon, investigators had yet to offer any theory as to what may have transpired, and indications were that it may take a further day or possibly two in order to gather all the debris and carry out the necessary examinations at the scene.

Among those called to the scene was local priest Fr Martin Pender from Ballymitty. He was shocked by what he saw.

'It was horrendous,' he said. 'Debris and bits of the plane were scattered everywhere. It was a horrible scene and gardaí did extremely well to cordon it off and keep everything under control.'

'It's a terrible tragedy and it's an awful situation for the families of these men who are left wondering what happened. It's really shocking.'

Fr Pender recited prayers over the bodies of the two men and also stayed at the scene for some hours talking to members of An Garda Síochána for whom he had great praise.

'I was deeply touched by the professionalism, competence and sensitivity of the officers present in the faultless execution of their duty, especially under such tragic and psychologically onerous circumstances,' he said.

'I would like to express my deepest respect and admiration for the members of An Garda Síochána for the outstanding work they carried out at the crash site. They should be commended for their dedication to duty. People can often forget that these people feel too.'

A man steeped in aviation, Mr Tawse had been teaching people to fly since 1982. He spent 15 years developing and running Waterford Regional Airport as manager there from 1987 to 2002. In Wexford, he regularly took people up for lessons and to take in the magnificent scenery of the skies over the Model County. He loved nothing more than to take off from the Taghmon airstrip and is recalled fondly by everyone who took a flight with him there.

One such student was Cabin Service Manager for Aer Lingus Aidan O'Sullivan who grew up near the ILAS airstrip and actually watched Mr Tawse and Mr Finnan take off from the airstrip on a journey they tragically would not return from.

'I've always had a love and passion for aviation and aircraft,' he said.

'So growing up and living just behind the airstrip in Taghmon, it was a real treat watching all types of light aircraft fly in and out. It was there at an annual fly-in that I was first introduced to Peter Tawse and his aircraft. He afforded us the opportunity to learn to fly with an experienced aviator from a local airfield.'

'He was incredibly generous with his time and had an incredible passion for aviation. I have such fond memories of him and I'm still finding it hard to come to terms with the fact that I watched him take off yesterday (Sunday), as I so often do. Tragically, on this occasion his aircraft would never return.'

The sense of shock felt by Mr O'Sullivan at the passing of his former instructor was shared right across Wexford as the news broke. Also at the scene on Sunday night was Advanced Paramedic and local councillor Ger Carthy.

'This really is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions,' he said.

'I'd like to extend my deepest sympathies to the families of both men who lost their lives. Little did they think when they went to take off and do something that they love that it would end in such tragic circumstances.

'I'd also like to thank and commend all of the emergency services at the scene - the National Ambulance Service, gardaí, the Coast Guard, the Rescue 117 helicopter and the council staff. They all worked really well together in difficult circumstances. I'd also like to thank the local community for showing their support and being so helpful during the recovery operation.'

Down at Gibletstown yesterday, Gardaí and council staff were settling in for the long haul manning the roadblocks as the Air Accident Investigation Units combed through the area behind, retrieving pieces of debris from the ill-fated aircraft.

Locals turned up periodically during the day to offer their assistance and flowers were laid at the side of the road as a mark of respect to the two men who lost their lives in a tragedy that has been mourned across the entire country.

Wexford People

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