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Hero pilot steered away from school yard

(September 19, 2008)
(Courtesy of Michael Lavery and

An engine failure is one of the possibilities that air crash investigators are considering, after a helicopter slammed into a busy street near a secondary school.

The pilot of the Sikorsky S76B Spirit, Bill Curry, was hailed a hero after he managed to steer the doomed chopper away from a school and hotel, seconds before it crashed and exploded.

A businessman, who was on board moments before the crash, said Mr Curry saved lives by risking his own to steer the aircraft away from the hotel, that was being used as a school in Bettystown, Co Meath.

"He was a hero. He definitely steered it away from the secondary school," Seamus Belton said.


The crash occurred just before 5pm yesterday in the car park of the Neptune apartments, where the pilot of the private helicopter had attempted to land.

Witnesses said the twin-engined American registered S76, worth an estimated €2.4m, tried to land in the car park but ended up landing on its side and burst into flames.

Four people -- the pilot and three people on the ground -- were taken to the Lourdes hospital in Drogheda, but all escaped with minor injuries.

It is understood the 23-year-old helicopter was owned by Barrack Homes, headed by builder Paddy Byrne, of Thomastown, Naas, Co Kildare.

The firm is "one of the largest builders in Ireland with developments in Ireland and the UK", according to its website.

The Air Accident Investigation Unit of the Department of Transport is conducting a full inquiry into the crash.

"It's a VIP helicopter and there are about three S76B in Ireland," an aviation source said.

The helicopter was fitted with sophisticated equipment, including an electronic flight instrumentation system.

Mr Belton, a Dundalk businessman, said: "We were picking up another businessman, Denis Redan, and were going to a business meeting in Dublin.

"The pilot didn't realise we were going to Dublin, so we decided to have the meeting here instead," he said

"It was miraculous how the pilot got out of it," he added.

Mr Curry was involved in flying Parkinson's sufferer Mary Hamill on a tour of 18 golf courses across Ireland in a bid to raise funds for research into the disease during the summer.

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