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Pilot in critical condition after microlight plane in terrifying plunge from sky

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The wreckage of the two-seater aircraft that crashed near Slievenamon, Mullinahone, Co Tipperary, yesterday


By Eimear Ni Bhraonain

Wednesday August 10 2011

AN EXPERIENCED pilot managed to call emergency services from his mobile phone after his light aircraft spiralled from the sky and smashed into a field.

Eyewitnesses described how the microlight "went quiet" and looked "in trouble" seconds before the collision.

A teenage boy was the first to find the two pilots in the wreckage of the tiny Pegasus Quantum after it crashed at Ballyduggan near Mullinahone, Co Tipperary.

Gerard Murphy from Co Cork was last night fighting for his life in hospital after he was airlifted from the scene.

Father-of-three Vincent Vaughan (48), who is an experienced pilot and flying instructor, survived the crash with only a broken leg.

It's understood Mr Vaughan made the initial call on his mobile phone to the emergency services, who arrived within minutes. The two men were cut from the wreckage.

The aircraft had taken off from Kilkenny airfield before it got into difficulty at around 11.30am yesterday. Both men were qualified pilots and there were dual controls in the plane.

Mr Vaughan's father and brother, both called John, went to the crash scene yesterday where they described their shock. "He's been flying since he was a chap. He's training pilots for seven years and last year he was even appointed to test others going for the licence," said John Snr.

John Jnr said his brother was the "safest man ever in the sky", who always put his students first.

The Vaughan family said they were praying for the recovery of Mr Murphy.

Mattie Kelly and Michael O'Brien were thatching the roof of a house in the area close to the crash when they heard the aircraft overhead.

"It was fairly high up but we could see it was in trouble. The wings were facing downwards," said Mr Kelly.

"It spiralled and started rolling down, it looked like they were doing their best to slow it down. It was going slow enough until the last 100 yards and then it hit the ground fast."

Mr O'Brien ran to the scene immediately -- but he said a teenage boy had already found the men.

Mr Murphy was unconscious -- and had to be transferred to a stretcher before being winched into the Coast Guard helicopter, which brought him to Waterford Regional Hospital. Mr Vaughan was taken to hospital by ambulance.

The Air Accident Investigation Unit engineer Paul Farrell and pilot Paddy Judge sifted through the wreckage in a bid to find out what went wrong.

AAIU investigator Jurgen Whyte said the aircraft was taken apart to be brought to the unit's hangar in Gormanstown, Co Meath, for a full technical examination.

Supt John Courtney visited the crash site yesterday and appealed for witnesses to come forward. He confirmed that the aircraft had taken off from Kilkenny on a "training flight".

The microlight, which was registered in England as G-BZOO, has the appearance of a cross between a hang-glider and a plane. The engine is at the back of the small two-seater. The instructor would normally sit at the back.

Other pilots who have flown with the Irish Aero Sports Flying Club, which is owned by Mr Vaughan, described the instructor as "very cautious" and "very safe". They expressed relief that Mr Vaughan was not seriously hurt.

He is a well-known instructor throughout the country having trained many pilots. He was the first person to teach tragic Air Corps cadet David Jevens how to fly.

Mr Jevens died a day short of his 22nd birthday along with his flight instructor Derek Furniss when their plane crashed in Co Galway in 2009 while on a training mission.

- Eimear Ni Bhraonain




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