Tuskar Rock pilots honoured with new Wright Brothers Award

The two pilots who flew the plane that crashed into the Irish Sea near Tuskar Rock in 1968 have become the first recipients of the new IALPA Wright Brothers Award, established last December to honour exceptional contributions to aviation in Ireland and abroad.

The Wright Brothers Award was presented in Dublin to relatives of the two men, Captain Barney O’Beirne and First Officer Paul Heffernan, at the annual dinner of the Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association (IALPA). IALPA inaugurated the Wright Brothers award on the centenary of the aviation pioneers’ first powered flight last December.

All 61 people on board Aer Lingus flight EI712, en route from Cork to London, were killed when it crashed on 24th March 1968. The exact cause of the tragic accident has never been established.

Last year, an expert review group set up by IALPA unanimously recommended the pilots for the IALPA Wright Brothers Award after reviewing the evidence, which suggested that the flight crew performed exceptionally in their attempts to save the crippled aircraft. This point was also made in the official report into the tragedy, which was published in 1970.

The 1970 report also found there was “not enough available evidence on which to reach a conclusion of reasonable probability as to the initial cause of this accident.” A 1999 joint review, carried out by the Irish Air Accident Investigation Unit and the British authorities, provoked a further review study in 2002, conducted at the request of Mary O’Rourke, then Minister for Transport. The official accident investigation remains open.

The IALPA Wright Brothers Award is awarded to individuals who make a unique, pioneering, or outstanding contribution to aviation. It is not confined to pilots. Rather anyone in the business, including pilots and other professional aviators, are eligible.

A committee of past and present members of IALPA decides who receives the honour.