Cockpit video evidence showed that a 59-year-old pilot was ‘incapacitated’ when his microlight aircraft departed from straight and level flight and plunged to the ground near Ballina last May, an inquest was told today.
The hearing into the death of Michael McCarrick, an ESB employee from Belleek, Ballina, was told that the impact was not survivable due to severe damage to the aircraft structures and extreme traumatic injuries to the pilot.
Mr. McCarrick, who had taken off from Lough Conn Airfield, Cloghans, Ballina, had installed a forward facing camera in the cockpit of the microlight and this, along with other evidence, indicated he had slumped forward and had no control of the aircraft at the time of the impact.
A subsequent post mortem examination indicated that it was very likely the pilot was unconscious at the time of impact.
Medical evidence was given to today’s inquest by Dr. Fadel Bennani, consultant pathologist at Mayo University Hospital, that a post mortem on the pilot showed evidence of an old myocardial infarction, a past heart attack.
Dr. Bennani said Mr. McCarrick had suffered what he described as “a transient loss of consciousness.” One of the causes of this is ischaemic heart disease.
In response to a question from a member of the McCarrick family, Dr. Bennani said that in his opinion ischaemic heart disease caused the loss of consciousness.
One of the witnesses to the crash was Padraig McNulty, Breaffy, Ballina.
In a statement read to today’s inquest Mr. McNulty said that he saw the plane coming in the direction of his house when “all of a sudden it took a sharp turn upwards” as in an acrobatic manoeuvre before turning and coming straight down.
“I did not see the plane hit the ground but I knew from the bang it had crashed,” the statement continued.
Howard Hughes of the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) told the hearing, which was conducted in Ballina courthouse by the Coroner for North Mayo, Dr. Eleanor Fitzgerald, that the primary source of evidence indicating that the pilot became incapacitated was obtained from a compact video recorder recovered at the accident site.
Prior to the accident, Mr. Hughes explained, Mr. McCarrick is observed operating the aircraft normally and is then observed becoming unconscious and slumping forward with his eyes closed, as the aircraft departed from straight and level flight, and nosedived until it impacted terrain 27 seconds later.
Mr. Hughes said the aircraft had been recently inspected prior to the crash and was found to be airworthy. Also Mr. McCarrick was a most careful and meticulous aviator was suitably qualified and licensed, the AAIU official noted.
After an inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental death due to multiple injuries, Supt Joseph Doherty, on behalf of An Garda Siochana, sympathised with Mr. McCarrick’s wife, Brid and family.
“I knew him personally as a friend and neighbour. He was one of life’s true gentlemen,” the superintendent continued.
Speaking on behalf of the McCarrick family, a niece of the deceased thanked everybody who had supported the family and helped them get through the dark days since the tragedy.
“Mick’s accident threw our happy, normal, happy lives into turmoil,” she added. “Our tragic loss has been eased by the kindness show us since the tragedy.”
Jim Friel, foreman of the inquest jury, joined the coroner Dr. Fitzgerald in the expressions of sympathy.