20 May 2022

‘I thought that was it’ - Kilkenny zookeeper on plane crash

‘I thought that was it’ - Kilkenny zookeeper on plane crash

James Hennessy is now back at work at the National Reptile Zoo

Just weeks after a crash which left James Hennessy thinking he might die James is back at work in the National Reptile Zoo and is looking forward to flying in the sky in the near future.
“I have been flying for five or six years now,” he said. “The small microplane I was flying on the day of the accident is a factory-built one.
“It was a beautiful calm evening last month and I came home early from work and decided to make the most of the weather.”
A fully trained pilot, James loves being in the sky.
“It gives you a whole new perspective to the world. You are not stuck to the road,” he said.
On that fateful evening in March James took off from a small airstrip at the back of his home.
“I was doing circuits, short routes around half a kilometre long and I was doing low passes. I was keeping up my skills.
“On the fourth one I was climbing out and was gaining altitude when the engine lost power. Part of the training for a pilot’s licence is that you have to do a lot of drills in engine failure.
Engine Failure
“Immediately I went through the checks and drills and checked if I could rectify the engine failure,” he said. “Realising that I couldn’t I had to decide what field would I land in.”
The thought of engine failure mid air is a terrifying prospect for most but James explained that a calm head will also serve you well in potentially life-threatening situations.
“I actually still have full control of the direction and of the aircraft itself. I took the nose down to gain more speed and I found a field. I pulled back the nose to get more speed. I was skimming along and coming close to a hedge and fence and I managed to jump the ditch and get into the field.
“There was an embankment there and I didn’t realise that it was there and I crashed into that,” he said.
The whole experience lasted approximately 90 seconds.
“The plane stopped dead and the entire front of it was crumpled with me in it. My legs were pushed into my chest and I broke my chest bone with my knee.

“I thought that was it, I was badly winded and I thought my insides were burst. I could feel the pain and I could smell fuel. The last thing I wanted was to burn to death so I managed to drag myself from the wreckage. I was wondering if I have left some of myself in the aircraft.”
Fortunately the crash happened close to a road and to his home and within minutes there were people at the scene. Emergency services were on the scene a short time later and James Hennessy was put on a spinal board and brought to St Luke’s Hospital.
His injuries include three-inch crack to his sternum and injuries to his hand, wrist, ankle and foot.
“There is still a bit of discomfort but I was back to work at the Reptile Zoo within a few days.”
“I think keeping a calm head goes a million times towards having a good outcome. I was flying the plane until it stopped in the grass. I didn't give up,” he said, adding that he hopes to be back in the skies soon.
“The sooner I fly again, the better. I will be nervous but I will push through it. Fear is a good thing, it keeps you safe and it stops you from taking unnecessary risks. Flying is all very calculated and controlled,” he added.

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