NI pilot who escaped crash unhurt ‘caught out by low clouds’

An Ikarus C42 plane similar to the one involved in the crash
An Ikarus C42 plane similar to the one involved in the crash

A newly qualified pilot has blamed his inexperience for a crash landing into trees which wrecked his aircraft but from which he and his passenger miraculously escaped unhurt.

The incident happened after the 56-year-old pilot, who had only gained his pilot’s licence a month earlier, misinterpreted the advice an instructor had given him before he took off from Kernan microlight site near Tandragee, on the afternoon of May 29 last year.

The instructor had advised him, in view of a low cloud base, to “stay in the local area” according to a newly published Air Accident Investigation Branch report into the incident.

Instead though he flew round the south of the Mourne mountains and during his return flight via Newcastle encountered rising ground, lowering cloud and reduced visibility in the area of Castlewellan.

The report said: “He decided that his best course of action was to land in a field.”

It said he knew the tiny Ikarus C42 microlight – reg G FLYM – owned by Raphael Stewart O’Carroll, of 56 Mullahead Road, Tandragee, Craigavon, could be landed in a short distance and if he could not take off after landing he was prepared to use a trailer to get it back to the airfield.

However, the report continued: “He could not see a field and instead he carried out an emergency landing into trees on the top of a hill. The aircraft sustained significant damage but he and his passenger were uninjured.”

It said the pilot later told crash investigators he was caught out by the rising terrain and lowering cloud, and that this was due to his inexperience.

It added: “When the instructor advised him to stay in the local area, he interpreted this area to include up to Newry which was 13 nautical miles south of Kernan. He did not think he was doing anything risky by going beyond this distance because when he reached Newry the cloudbase was still above 1,000 ft.”

But the report said: “The instructor who advised the pilot before the flight probably wanted him to stay within a few miles of the airfield due to the low cloudbase. However, the pilot considered that it was safe to fly further than this as long as the cloudbase remained above 1,000 ft.

“He had probably not realised that he was heading towards terrain that was as high as 750ft on his return leg from Newry. It is noted that, even when travelling at a typical C42 cruise speed of 85 kt, the ‘situation ahead’ can change rapidly and low cloud can hide the tops of hills.”