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Saturday 10 December 2016

Plane crash: 'I saw the fire and called Mayday, but I knew my friend was a goner'

Howard Cox (67) photographed on Saturday afternoon over Brittas, Limerick
Howard Cox (67) photographed on Saturday afternoon over Brittas, Limerick

A friend of tragic pilot Howard Cox has described how he saw his pal's small plane on fire and he knew he was "a goner".

Gerry Humphreys was flying behind Mr Cox's plane - a BD5 mini-jet similar to one used in a James Bond film - when smoke, and then flames, began billowing from its engine.

The two friends - regarded as experienced aviators - had been flying from Waterford to Shannon Airport.

Mr Cox and his single engine jet, which could reach speeds of up to 200mph, was to be one of the star attractions in yesterday's Foynes Air Show.

"I was with Howard when he was killed. I was in another airplane five minutes behind him," said Mr Cox's friend Gerry, the air show's director.

"I saw the fire and the smoke. I flew over the top (of the crash site). There was nothing I could do. I called Mayday for him, and I realised he was a goner. That was it really.

"His wife is devastated," Gerry added.

Mr Cox (67), an aircraft engineer and an experienced pilot from Devon, England, is survived by his wife Elizabeth and son Peter.

Displays

He was a world-class precision flying expert and began doing air show displays about 10 years ago.

Mr Cox's wife, Elizabeth, is a nurse and her family are originally from the Waterford area.

Gerry recalled how his friend was a frequent visitor to this country.

"He so enjoyed flying in Ireland. He loved it. Yesterday, he was telling me the visibility and the scenery is so beautiful," said Gerry.

"That's how I will remember him, as an enthusiastic, joyful person. It's very, very sad.

"Howard had recently beaten cancer and lived every day as a bonus. Sadly he did not know he had so few."

The crash took place in the townland of Garrabane, north of Dungarvan, Co Waterford, on Saturday evening.

It's understood people in Waterford spotted Mr Cox's plane flying very low shortly before the accident and could see he was in trouble.

Emergency services, including a coast guard helicopter and several units of the fire brigade, attended the scene.

Mr Cox's body was taken to Waterford Regional Hospital for a post-mortem.

The Air Accident Investigation Unit is investigating the incident.

A photograph of Mr Cox was taken by another friend John Drysdale just hours before his death as he flew a different plane over Brittas in Co Limerick.

Mr Cox built his own BD5 jet out of kits, while he was still in university.

The type of plane was an international sensation in the early 1980s after being made famous when it featured in the opening sequence of the 007 hit Octopussy.

With its red exterior and missile looks, the BD5 was to be hotly anticipated at yesterday's air show, which was dedicated to Mr Cox's memory.

There was a minute's silence at the event at 1pm.

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