Martin Cullen: lucky escape

THE door of a helicopter, which fell off in flight while a government minister was on board, had not been closed properly after two members of the public were given a tour of the aircraft.

An official report into the accident involving Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Martin Cullen has said the cause of the accident was a failure to lock the door correctly prior to take-off.

In the mid-air drama, as the aircraft was climbing at around 145mph to some 160 metres off the ground, the left-hand cabin door suddenly plunged to the ground.

Inside the AW139 chopper at the time were the pilot, copilot, a crewman, Cullen and a departmental official.

The report says: "The aircraft had conducted a standard 'cat A' departure from the race course [Killarney] and was climbing to cruise altitude.

"At a speed of approx 126 knots and an altitude of approx 500ft during a right turn, the left-hand cabin sliding door fell from the aircraft and landed into a remote area in Killarney National Park.

"The aircraft captain elected to make a precautionary landing at the Killarney Golf and Fishing Club following this occurrence. The investigation determined that the left-hand sliding door was not correctly closed and secured prior to take-off."

The helicopter had left Baldonnel Aerodrome that morning before heading to Waterford to pick up the minister for an official engagement in Kerry.

The report continues: "The aircraft then routed to Killarney race course where the three passengers disembarked.

"The aircraft proceeded without passengers to Kerry Airport in order to refuel.

"Following refuelling the aircraft then repositioned back to Killarney race course to collect two passengers. While on the ground at the race course, the crewman opened the left-hand sliding main cabin door to show two local people around the aircraft. He then closed this door and the flight crew waited for their passengers to return."

As the helicopter took off and attempted to make the right-hand turn, the left door began to open and slid backwards on its railings.

The report says: "When the door reached its fully opened position it detached from the aircraft due to structural failure of sections of the door rail."

All on board, including the minister, were interviewed as part of the investigation, according to the final report.

The crewman told the inquiry team that the last time the left-hand door had been opened was "to facilitate two local people who arrived at the aircraft".

The report says: "His recollection was that he pulled the door forward and applied the locking handle downwards... He was confident that the door was closed and locked."

The report said that no injuries were suffered and that damage to the aircraft was minor.

The door itself was recovered from "swamp ground" and returned to the manufacturer for repair.