Helmet footage and pilot's phone examined in Offaly plane crash probe
A interim statement regarding the ongoing investigation into the circumstances of the plane crash that killed two people in Offaly last month has examined the pilot's mobile phone and footage captured by a parachutist's helmet camera in the seconds before it crashed on bogland near Clonbullogue on May 13, 2018.
Pilot Niall Bowditch and seven-year-old passenger Kacper Kacprzak were killed in the crash which occurred after the Cessna Caravan aircraft had dropped a group of 16 parachutists from the Irish Parachute Club in Clonbullogue.
The preliminary report on this accident was published in June 2018, just weeks after the crash but EU regulations necessitated the release of an interim statement this week on the one-year anniversary of the crash as the investigation continues.
The preliminary Air Accident Investigation Unit Ireland had earlier said CCTV footage from the nearby windfarm and training facility at Mount Lucas was recovered and appears to "briefly show the aircraft, in flight, in the distance, before it assumed a steep, nose-down attitude and descended below a line of trees as it approached the ground."
Further to this, several of the parachutists who had earlier jumped from the plane, provided the investigation with video recordings of their jumps. One of these recordings appears to show the aircraft for approximately one second, as it descended below a line of trees in the distance. The Investigation will seek to determine if it is possible to enhance the image quality of the recordings.
Three witnesses are also referenced in the report, one of which claimed to see the plane "on its left side" while another witness, who was walking in the area at the time, said "he heard the sound of an aircraft engine, looked up and saw the aircraft coming straight down, nose first, before it disappeared below a line of trees, located to his north-west."
This was followed by what the witness described as a “thump." It was at that time all three witnesses contacted the emergency services.
Work was also carried out at the crash site to recover the pilot's mobile phone. The interim statement read: "Certain mobile phone apps designed for use by aircraft pilots, have the capability to log flight data. Such data could be useful from an accident investigation perspective."
In this instance, the pilot’s mobile phone was recovered at the accident site. "Due to the extent of the damage sustained by the phone as a result of the accident, it was sent to a UK-based data recovery specialist with the assistance of the UK AAIB."
"The data recovery specialist repaired the phone’s motherboard and operating system. However, no data could be obtained from the device," the interim statement read.
The preliminary report further stated that the aircraft’s Certificate of Airworthiness had been issued by the UK CAA in December 2017 and that the Airworthiness Review Certificate, also issued by the CAA, was valid until December 11, 2018.
The radio activities on the plane were also noted in the report and after the pilot had indicated to the airfield that the jump had been completed, personnel at the Clonbullogue base said that the pilot made contact again to advise that the aircraft was on “left base" to the north-west of the airfield. The plane was then expected to land in a matter of minutes.
No further transmissions were received from the aircraft, and when it did not arrive as expected, the airfield personnel attempted to establish radio contact, but were unsuccessful, according to the report.
It's estimated in the report that the plane crashed shortly before 1.40pm on the day. The report says that at approximately 1:54pm, the Marine Rescue Co-Ordination Centre (MRCC) in Dublin contacted Clonbullogue airfield to advise that an Alert Signal was being received from an aircraft’s Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) close to the airfield.
Another aircraft, which was based at the airfield, was used to conduct a search for the missing aircraft. A land-based search was also initiated and Dublin ATC was informed of the situation. A short time later, the accident site was located less than three miles away from the airfield. There was no fire at the scene and the plane was partially buried in the bogland between Mount Lucas and Clonbullogue.
The plane was removed from the scene for inspection and the Air Accident Investigation Unit Ireland. The AAIU shipped the aircraft’s propeller to the propeller manufacturer’s facility in the United States for disassembly and examination.
Representatives from the FAA oversaw the work on behalf of the NTSB and the AAIU. The propeller manufacturer noted that “the propeller blade bending, twisting, paint scuffing, leading edge impacts, and overall propeller assembly damage is typical of that associated with mid-level rotational energy absorption, namely rotation with likely some engine power, at impact."
The investigation is continuing and authorities say the main areas of the investigation include the general operation of the aircraft and the analysis and correlation of all information; the lease of the aircraft and the piloting arrangements associated with the lease; the oversight of parachuting operations in Ireland; the carriage of a passenger on board an aircraft engaged in parachute operations.
The AAIU said, "this interim statement is based on information currently known to the investigation and may contain errors. Any errors in this interim statement will be corrected in the final report."
They say that final report will be published "in due course."