Ahern's pilots die after beach crash

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ALL FOUR members of an Irish air-sea rescue crew were killed early yesterday when their helicopter crashed while attempting an emergency beach landing in thick fog.

The Dauphin helicopter ploughed into a 150-foot sand dune and burst into flames scattering debris across a wide area. The tragedy happened after three attempts to land at Waterford Airport were aborted due to bad weather: the last radio contact with the crew was at 12.37am.

The helicopter had just completed a rescue operation off the Cork coast, helping guide to safety three men and a young child in a small pleasure boat which had gone adrift in thick fog. The crew were named as Captain Dave O'Flaherty, 30, Sergeant Paddy Mooney, 34, Captain Mick Baker, 28, and Corporal Niall Byrne, 24.

Capt O'Flaherty and Capt Baker had flown the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to the Stormont talks in Belfast on Tuesday morning.

Mr Ahern said he was deeply shocked by the accident. He said the crewmens' deaths were "all the more poignant given that they themselves had helped to save lives of people on a vessel in distress a short time before the crash."