'I heard an explosion and saw the plane break up in air'
The plane in which two men were killed when it crashed on Sunday evening suffered a catastrophic failure in mid-air and began to break up as it nosedived to the ground, an eyewitness has said.
Peter Tawse (61), from Old Ross in Wexford, and John Finnan (52), from Kildare, were killed when the light aircraft they were travelling in crashed at Gibletstown near Duncormick in Co Wexford on Sunday at 5.40pm.
Mr Tawse was a respected flight instructor who once worked as manager of Waterford Airport. Mr Finnan was senior research officer in the Teagasc Crops Research Department in Oak Park, Co Carlow.
Neighbours also said he was keen on gliding and flying.
The men were in a two-seater Rollason Condor plane with the identity marker EI-BDX.
Local farmer Michael Doran had been milking his cows on Sunday afternoon when the tragedy happened.
"I noticed the plane circulating in the sky above," he said from his home at Johnstown, Duncormick.
"Everything seemed to be fine and I didn't pay much heed to it because we're used to planes coming and going from the airfield nearby.
"But after the milking I came out and I heard something like an explosion in the sky. It was like a lawnmower backfiring, and then I looked up and saw the plane coming down twirling slightly nose-first and breaking up in the air.
"I phoned the emergency services and drove to where I thought it came down, and I could see the wing section lying out across the laneway.
"The plane was upside down across a ditch but the wreckage was spread over two or three fields, maybe about 20 acres in area. There was no sign of smoke or fire [and] no flames, even though I thought there would have been," he added.
"I had hoped that when I got to the plane I could have helped the people on board, but sadly it wasn't to be.
"Another car came along the scene then and we tried to help the gardai as best we could."
He believes that the plane suffered a sudden catastrophe in mid-air, and that there was no indication that the plane was in difficulty before the initial and sudden explosion.
"I would sometimes hear the planes making different noises as they throttled back and things, but this noise was different, it was louder," said Mr Doran.
He expressed his condolences to the families of the two victims. The two-seater light aircraft took off from an airfield at Ardinagh, Taghmon, a short distance from the crash site.
It is a grass airstrip that Mr Tawse knew well, according to local sources. The Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) spent yesterday examining the scene and collecting the smashed parts of the plane.
"The aircraft parts were spread over a wide area, and the terrain is boggy and marshy," an AAIU spokesman said.
Efforts were under way yesterday evening to bring the remains of the plane to an AAIU depot for further examination to determine the cause of the crash. The bodies of Mr Tawse and Mr Finnan were taken to University Hospital Waterford for a post-mortem.
Colleagues of Mr Finnan paid tribute to him on learning of his sudden death.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with John's family, his parents and his three sisters at this time of loss," said John Spink, head of crops, environment and land use programme at the Teagasc offices where Mr Finnan worked.
"John was a senior research officer in the Crops Research Department in Oak Park, Carlow. His research specialised on energy crops, and more recently oats," he said. "His publication record was second to none and will leave a lasting legacy in Ireland and across Europe.
"John was a fantastic colleague and friend, and a mentor to many PhD students. It was an honour and privilege to know and work with John and we remember a colleague who was such a positive influence on people's lives."
Mr Tawse had made regular postings to his YouTube account in which he talked about flying, showing footage of landings as well as stunning scenery of Wexford filmed during his flights. Neighbours of both men described their deaths as "shocking tragedies".
"Peter was a quiet and private man, and he and his wife were good neighbours," said one woman in Old Ross in Wexford.
News of the death of Mr Finnan did not reach Naas until yesterday afternoon. He had lived alone in the Morell estate in the town and neighbours said he was a polite man who would be missed greatly.