Crash pilots named

The two Air Corps crew members killed after their aircraft crashed in Co Galway last night have been named as 32-year-old Captain Derek Furniss and Cadet David Jevens, 22.

The pair had been on a low-flying training exercise which left Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, Co Dublin, at about 5.45pm last night. The Pilatus PC-9 aircraft was taking part in the exercise with two other planes, both of which landed safely at Galway Airport.

A woman who raised the alarm reported seeing the stricken plane flying low near the village of Cornamona, Co Galway, just before hearing a loud bang.

“Part of the purpose was to fly low,” said a Defence Forces spokesman.

“Low level flying would be 1,500 feet so it’s not hedge-hopping or nap-of-the-earth flying.”

The fatal flight was reported missing at about 6.20pm and an Irish Coast Guard helicopter scrambled from Shannon located the wreckage less than an hour later.

Air Corps press officer Seamus McCormack said weather conditions and poor visibility significantly hampering the operation.

“The landscape in the area is also proving a challenge in that it is very remote,” he said.

“We have a base camp set up on the foot of the mountain and it’s about a 20- to 25-minute trek by foot to the scene.”

Mr McCormack confirmed the cockpit voice and flight data recorder would be sent to Casement Aerodrome for analysis.

He insisted the safety record of the Pilatus PC-9 fleet was impeccable.

Captain Furniss was originally from Ballinteer in Dublin and had been a member of the

Defence Forces since October 1994. He had over 3,000 flight hours experience and was the Chief Flight Instructor on the plane which crashed at Cornamona.

He was also a member of the Air Corps PC-9 display team

Cadet Jevens, from Glynn in Co Wexford, joined the Defence Forces in 2006.

He was at the advanced stages of flight training on the PC-9 with over 160 flight hours and 50 simulator training hours over the past three years flight training. He was due for commissioning as a pilot later this year.

Air Accident Investigation teams are currently at the crash site which is around 3km from Maam Cross, the Defence Forces said.

The onsite investigation is estimated to take up to 72 hours, with the flight and cockpit voice recorders already having been located. Bomb disposal experts had to make the site safe before investigators could move onto the scene, as the two-seater training plane was fitted with ejector seats which are triggered by explosives.

Air Corps press officer Seamus McCormack said weather conditions and poor visibility were significantly hampering the operation.

“The landscape in the area is also proving a challenge in that it is very remote,” he said.

“We have a base camp set up on the foot of the mountain and it’s about a 20- to 25-minute trek by foot to the scene.”

Mr McCormack confirmed the cockpit voice and flight data recorder would be sent to Casement Aerodrome for analysis.

He insisted the safety record of the Pilatus PC-9 fleet was impeccable.

Meanwhile an appeal was made to respect the privacy of the bereaved families.

"The Defence Forces ask for respect for both families at this very difficult time," a statement said, adding that the Forces were providing "every assistance" to the bereaved families.

General Officer Commanding the Air Corps, Brigadier General Ralph James met the Furniss family last night and is meeting the Jevens family later today to extend sympathies on behalf of the Defence Forces.

Politicians and civil leaders including President Mary McAleese, Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Defence Minister Willie O'Dea and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny had earlier offered their condolences on the deaths of the two men.

The President said she was shocked and saddened by the tragic deaths.

“The sympathies and prayers of the nation are especially with the families and colleagues of these two young men who lost their lives so suddenly,” she said.

“This is a devastating loss for the Air Corps and the Defence Forces.”

Funeral details have not been released.

The Air Corps have eight Pilatus PC-9M aircraft.

The two seater turbo propeller planes are used mainly for training pilots and instructors and as close air support craft.

Most Read in Ireland