Tributes have been paid to the two friends killed in a crash involving a light aircraft on Sunday afternoon.
Bryan Keane, 69, and Paul Smith, 58, both from Athboy, Co. Meath, died when the Cessna T182T Turbo Skylane plane they were travelling in ploughed into the Blackstairs Mountains on the Carlow and Wexford border.
Yesterday the family of Mr Keane who was one of the pilots killed in the crash told how they have been devastated by the death of the experienced pilot.
One of Mr Keane’s sons Robert said that the family were ‘incredibly shocked’.
Paying tribute, Nick Murphy, the manager of Athboy Credit Union where Mr Keane was chairman, said: ‘Brian was involved with this credit union for 20 years and was in his second term as chairman.
‘He was a gentleman and knew how to get things done. He quietly organised things in the background. He didn’t slow down too much after he retired; he was always on the go.’ Mr Keane was due to open the Blue Jean Country Queen Festival in Athboy, Co. Meath, this Friday and present the awards on Sunday.
The bodies of Mr Keane, who had moved from Athboy to Kells in recent years after retiring and Mr Smith, were recovered from the mountainside as darkness approached on Sunday night and were brought to Waterford Regional Hospital.
The communities where the two men lived were left grief-stricken and shocked yesterday.
Mr Murphy added: ‘The Blue Jean Country Queen Festival has taken place in Athboy since 1987 but there was talk of it not happening here this year.
‘But Athboy Credit Union sponsored the event and Bryan was going to be opening the festival on Friday and would have been presenting the awards on Sunday.
‘Our part in the festival will be very low key now following Bryan’s death. Ballyboy Airfield is also having an air show for charity at the weekend.
‘Maybe Bryan and Paul had been on a practice flight in preparation for the show when the accident happened, but I don’t know.
‘We are all very shocked by Bryan’s death.’ Mr Keane and Mr Smith had taken off with their two dogs from Ballyboy Airfield, near Athboy, on Sunday morning. The aircraft crashed at around 2pm. A hillwalker raised the alarm and a major rescue operation was launched in the isolated area.
Mr Keane, who had been a metalwork teacher at Athboy Vocational School before he retired, and Mr Smith, who owned his own trophymaking business, were both avid flyers. Mr Keane’s wife Madaline, four sons Bryan, Robert, Colin and Cormac and daughter Andrea were being comforted by friends and relatives last night – as was Mr Smith’s wife Anne and their children, Hazel, Ann and Howard.
One woman who knows both families but did not wish to be named said they were ‘distraught’ last night. ‘The two men went out for a nice day together flying and never came home,’ she said. ‘It is so tragic and terribly sad. Their families are devastated.’
A Department of Transport spokesman said the Air Accident Investigation Unit is still at the evidence-gathering stage trying to determine the cause of the crash.
The AAIU’s website stated: ‘The investigation will, pending favorable weather conditions, endeavor to commence recovery of the aircraft wreckage in the coming days, while continuing to gather information regarding the event.’
Experts said the weather was good for flying but aviation journalist Gerry Byrne has said that despite this, flying a light aircraft in a mountainous region always poses risks.
Athboy credit union manager Mr Murphy said: ‘I heard a bit on the news on Sunday evening and wondered if it could have been Bryan as he was always up flying. Bryan’s passion was flying; he owned his own aircraft and he loved flying.
‘He could take a plane apart and put it back together – his most recent project was stripping and painting an aircraft. One of his sons is a pilot with Aer Lingus, so the love of flying was passed down the generation from Bryan.
Our thoughts are with his family.’ Local Athboy councillor David Gilroy also paid tribute to the two men.
He said: ‘The two men were always associated with flying.
‘They were highly competent pilots and often went up flying together.
‘It must have been something very serious that happened for them to crash.
‘They were both highly regarded in the area and everyone is shocked and terribly saddened by their tragic deaths.’ Fine Gael TD for Meath West Ray Butler said: ‘The two men were very popular around the area.
‘The community is devastated. I knew Paul quite well; he was a lovely man.
‘As far as I know one of his children took over his trophy business.’
The wreckage was discovered by a hillwalker near the peak of Blackstairs Commons shortly after 4.30pm yesterday.
Emergency services scrambled to the scene. However, rescue teams had to rely on helicopters to transport them to the crash site, which is inaccessible by road.
Mr. Keane, who was originally from Athboy but living in Kells, and Mr. Smith, who was from Athboy, took off from Athboy Aerodrome in Ballyboy shortly after 10am.
Mr. Smith, who made trophies for a living, and Mr. Keane, chairperson of Athboy credit union, boarded the plane with two pet dogs, who also died in the crash.
There were no reports of any distress signal being sent out before the accident.
Locals in the village of Kiltealy, Co Wexford, close to where the tragedy occurred, reported seeing a low-flying aircraft circling the area for up to an hour in the early afternoon.
Weather conditions were said to be very good in the area.
Last night, local Councillor David Gilroy said the whole community was in shock after hearing of the crash.
“Both men were pillars of the community here,” he said.
“Bryan was an extreme gentleman and nurtured the credit union back to health after the recession.
“He was an extremely experienced flyer. When we were young lads we always used to look up in the sky and see him flying around in microlites above our heads and from there he moved to planes.
“There was even a rumor going around that he flew solo to America once,” said Mr Gilroy.
“Paul was a gentleman also and everyone in the community knew him. He made trophies and medals for all the sports clubs,” he added.
The Air Accident Investigation Unit is investigating the crash and the scene was cordoned off last night with tents erected around the wreckage.
It is not the first occasion that a plane has crashed in the mountains.
On the morning of September 7, 1983, four people from Birmingham were tragically killed when their Cessna 182 crashed close to the summit of Mount Leinster.
They were on a flight bound for Kilkenny when the aircraft hit the 2,409ft mountain.
Yesterday’s crash occurred in an area known locally as Blackstairs Commons and is said to be inaccessible by road.
A Coast Guard helicopter and a team from South East Mountain Rescue helped in the search and recovery operation.
JEFFREY LYNN MORRIS: http://registry.faa.gov/N247P