Tourism Minister Martin Cullen has praised the skill, professionalism and calmness of an Air Corp crew who safely landed a helicopter in which he was travelling last Monday when its main door blew off.
Minister Cullen had boarded the AW 139 utility helicopter in Waterford earlier that morning to travel to Killarney for an Irish Hotels’ Federation conference and was returning to Dublin when its port door blew off, some 500ft above Killarney National Park. The Minister was understood to have been sitting close to the door at the time.
The helicopter was forced into an emergency landing at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club after the dramatic incident but there were no injuries to either the three crew members, Minister Cullen or his private secretary on board. Onlookers reported that the Minister appeared quite shaken when he disembarked.
Afterwards, Minister Cullen thanked crew members, Captain Lee Brennan, Lieutenant Oisín McGrath and Airman Patrick Mahon whom, he said, were exceptionally efficient and acted superbly. “Full credit should be given to them for their outstanding skill. At all stages the situation was under control and it is a testament to their utter professionalism as airmen. We are well served by our Air Corps personnel.”
The Minister had been due to travel to Dublin after the Kerry conference and another aircraft was diverted from Cork to bring him to the capital later on Monday night. Earlier in the day he told journalists at an Irish Hotels’ Federation conference in Killarney that he will travel business or first class when he goes away for St Patrick’s Day. However Minister Cullen would not confirm where he would be travelling to.
In the wake of the incident, Opposition leaders have raised questions about the use of Air Corps helicopters for ministerial travel. Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd said the country’s present financial circumstances cast doubt on the cost effectiveness of using helicopters.
“When you think is there any other method of transport for ministers on a journey like this and there is – it is the ministerial car. I would like to know how much are trips like this costing, especially on a day when there is no Government business in the Dáil.”
The aircraft involved in the incident is currently on the ground until a military airworthiness inspection team and technicians from Air Corps HQ, Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, conduct an inquiry into the incident. The helicopter was one of a batch of six delivered to the Air Corps at a cost of €75m last July.