Brein McGinnat Clonea Strand Reports
The pilot who died in a light aircraft crash between Dungarvan and Stradbally on Saturday evening last has been named as 67-year-old Howard Cox from Devon.
Mr Cox’s BD5 light aircraft crashed into a field in the area known as Clonea Upper at approximately 6.43pm, having taken off from Waterford Airport at 6.35pm.
Mr Cox, a former RAF pilot and member of the Waterford Aero Club, had intended on flying to Shannon Airport via Ardmore when the plane got into difficulty over the An Rinn area, which led him to attempt a return to Waterford Airport.
The deceased, whose last known contact was with Shannon Air Traffic control, was due to take part in the inaugural Foynes Air Show which was held on Sunday.
Show organisers proceeded with the Foynes event “dedicated to our colleague’s memory” after contacting Mr Cox’s family, who wished for it to go ahead. A minute’s silence was observed at Foynes in Howard Cox’s memory.
The unique red aircraft, which was built by Mr Cox himself and inspired by the plane used in the opening scene of the James Bond film, ‘Octopussy’, ignited upon impact with the ground.
Mr Cox, who was in remission from cancer, was confirmed dead at the scene in which five fire engine units tackle the blaze, with assistance also offered by Rescue 117, Gardaí and the Ambulance Service.
The deceased, wife to Waterford native Elizabeth and father to Sean, was one of the pilots involved in the air show at the recently staged Tramore Promenade Festival.
“Just three weeks ago, Howard was part of the professional air show team that wowed audiences at The Promenade Festival here in Tramore,” said festival director Sean Corcoran. “Our sincere condolences go to his family, friends and fellow pilots.”
Locals Nicholas Murphy and David Raher were first at the scene after witnessing the event from a house nearby less than 100 metres away and with a view of the area where the plane was flying.
The two men were attending a birthday party at the latter’s house when the incident occurred and Murphy was outside when the plane was struggling.
Mr Murphy told The Munster Express: “It was just after 6.30, we were outside doing the barbeque and the weather was getting bad so most people had gone inside but there was three of us outside, myself, David Raher’s wife, Marie and my wife, Tracy. I noticed this jet-like plane coming from the Waterford direction at a very, very fast speed with a distinctive sound out over Helvick Head.”
He added: “About 10 seconds after that you couldn’t hear anything but then the plane came back around over Dungarvan and the two women were facing away towards the barbeque but I remained looking at the plane and I saw this red plane coming towards us and before I could say the words ‘look at the plane’, it was smashed into the ground.”
Commenting on his reaction, Mr Murphy stated: “That’s the bit where it becomes surreal, you think, ‘Did I just see a plane crash?’ and in the next second the whole thing exploded into one big black cloud of smoke”
One of those attending the party immediately alerted emergency services who were themselves in slight disbelief as they repeated “what came down?” in response to the description of events to what had happened and the two men drove into the field to see what they could do to help the pilot.
Nicholas Murphy spoke about attending the scene. “We drove into the field and saw that the plane was on the other side of the ditch so we going to try to get over the ditch but then I thought if there was more fuel it could explode.
“David saw the debris and said that he had struck the ditch on the other side of the field and travelled the whole length of the field to the other ditch which is probably a 4 acre field which is 200 or 300 yards.
“Next thing, a couple came down with a fire extinguisher but there was nothing left, like it completely disintegrated to nothing to say was there anyone there, you wouldn’t have known.”
Reflecting on the tragic event, Mr Murphy believes that the plane was only around 150 feet off the ground and lost engine power when he reappeared over Dungarvan due to the disappearance of the unique sound and thinks that the pilot was trying to find a field big enough to put the plane down.
Many people who saw the plane believed it was circling to find a place to land and many reports suggested that the pilot may have thought about landing the plane on Clonea Strand but Murphy confirmed there was another plane circling over the bay attempting to aid the struggling aircraft.
We’ve also learned that residents in Tramore heard an aircraft making “a peculiar noise” on Saturday evening last.
Another local from the Ballinroad area, Cian Dwyer, was standing in his drive when he saw the plane going down and described what he saw.
“I was standing in my driveway, heading off to watch a football match, when I heard a loud noise, it sounded like a remote control plane, I looked up and saw a very small plane dipping, – I knew it was in trouble, when I got to the top of the road I saw a cloud of black smoke coming from the hill at Garranbane/Clonea,” he said.
“I was shocked and thought it might have only been a drone, but when two fire engines and police cars passed me by I knew it was serious.”
Mr Cox, a retired ship engineer was in Ireland since last Wednesday getting ready for his appearance at yesterday’s Foynes air show and inspecting other aircraft.
Foynes Air Show director Gerry Humphreys led the tributes for his close friend, who had been in remission for several months after battling cancer.
“He was a good guy, very unassuming, an underestimated talent in aviation and engineering circles,” said Mr Humphreys.
“He so enjoyed flying in Ireland. He loved it. Yesterday (Friday) he was telling me the visibility and the scenery is so beautiful – that’s how I will remember him, as an enthusiastic, joyful person. It’s very, very sad,” Humphreys said.
“He had recently beaten cancer and lived everyday as a bonus, sadly he did not know he had so few.”
Mr Humphreys was flying in an aircraft just behind Mr Cox on Saturday and saw the tragedy from a unique perspective.
He told The Irish Times: “As I left, the guy in the tower said he (Howard) was coming back with a fire. I moved out of the way and, as I looked ahead, I could see what appeared to be the impact…It looked as if it was fatal. I couldn’t see how anyone could survive it.”
It’s believed that Mr Cox had made a mayday call to Air Traffic Control in Shannon prior to the fatal crash.
“The airplane he was flying was his life’s passion, really,” said Joe Humphreys. “He started building it in college in the 1970s.”
The Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) investigation into Mr Cox’s death is expected to take at least one month to complete, and a four-strong AAIU team was on the scene shortly after 9pm on Saturday night.
The remains of Mr Cox were taken to University Hospital Waterford for a post-mortem examination.