A ‘miracle’ men survived crash

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It is thought that pilot Simon McNeill sustained a number of broken bones, while passenger, twin brother Colin, is reported to be undergoing treatment for facial injuries after their twin-seater plane crash-landed near the Mullahead Road on Christmas Day.

The PSNI issued a statement soon after the crash - “The pilot and passenger have both been taken to hospital (Craigavon) for injuries that are not believed to be life-threatening.” Simon was immediately transferred to the Royal in Belfast and Simon was moved to the Ulster on Friday. Bulletins at the start of this week described Simon as “stable” and Colin as “comfortable”. The prayers of the community are with the family that they will make a full recovery.

Simon works for Jet2, based at Belfast International Airport, with destinations mainly in Europe. He is also a respected instructor and is featured on the Ulster Flying Club (Newtownards) website. Colin emigrated to Australia some years ago and was on a visit home to be with his extended family over Christmas.

An eyewitness, who was close to the scene minutes after the emergency services arrived, told the ‘Times’, “It’s a miracle they survived. The plane came down on its nose and is a total write-off. Reports at the scene indicated that the pilot was the more seriously injured of the two. The passenger’s seat in these planes is directly behind the pilot seat, so the pilot probably came off worse.”

A statement from Kernan Aviation said, “We express our regret following the accident near the airstrip, and send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to the pilot and passenger from this privately-owned aircraft.

“The Kernan Valley Flying Club has been operating on this site for 20 years. It has an excellent safety record as no flying school aircraft have been involved in an accident.”

Raphael O’Carroll, who owns the airstrip, helped remove the wrecked aircraft from the site on Boxing Day. It is being examined while a full inquiry gets under way. The Piper Cub model was popular during World War Two, and Simon owned the plane involved in the crash.

The inquiry is being carried out by the Air Accident Investigation Branch. A spokesman from their headquarters in Aldershot, Hampshire, said, “We are aware of the crash in County Armagh, and an investigation is being initiated. We cannot comment further at this early stage.”