The crash had occurred on Monday 1st October, the day the Pope concluded his visit to Ireland and departed from Shannon Airport, Co. Clare.
This article was taken from the following weekend’s Edition of the Fermanagh Herald, dated 6th October 1979.
We would like to thank the staff of Enniskillen Library for their assistance in retrieving the following information from the Fermanagh Herald archives.
A cloud of tragedy enveloped Enniskillen on Tuesday when the news reached the area that an Enniskillen family party of four had perished in a plane crash on the slopes of the Cuilcagh Mountains, on the border of Fermanagh/Leitrim/Cavan, on the previous day.
Mr Sean F. MacMahon, of Drumclay Road (Enniskillen), well known television dealer, and an experienced pilot, was flying from Enniskillen to Shannon to see the Pope’s farewell from Ireland.
His passengers were his children, Brian, aged 16, and Carmel, aged 13, and his sister-in-law, Mrs Margaret Magee, wife of Mr. Seamus Magee, P.T., of Drumclay Link.
It had been less than half an hour later when it crashed in fog, into the side of the mountain, 50 to 100 feet from it’s peek. The airplane burst into flames and it’s occupants must have died instantly.
The wreckage was first spotted from a helicopter and a rescue party landed near-by. The wreckage was so close to the border that even on Tuesday the authorities on both sides of the border could not be sure whether the crash had occurred in Cavan or Fermanagh.
The bodies were removed on Tuesday afternoon by British Army helicopter to the morgue at the Erne Hospital, Enniskillen.
The party flew out from St. Angelo Airport in Mr. MacMahon’s Chesna 172 plane shortly after eight o’clock on Monday morning. A flight plan had been
prepared as usual for such a journey and all seemed set for a pleasant and safe passage to Shannon.
Since that time on Monday, nothing was heard of the plane or the party, and the first alarm was raised around tea-time, when Mr. MacMahon’s wife, Maura, a native of Irvinestown and a teacher in St. Michael’s Boy’s Primary School, Cornagrade, expecting the party home again at half-past five, rang Shannon airport when they did not arrive.
Her daughter, Carmel, had planned to attend the performance of the Cork-based Irish Ballet Company at Lisnaskea High School at seven o’clock. Shannon had no word of the plane at all, but promised to make enquiries and ring back. Next news came to Mrs. MacMahon from Dublin Airport, which reported that their preliminary enquiries showed that the plane had not reported in at any of the airports around.
Enniskillen first heard of the missing plane and it’s occupants through a Radio Eireann broadcast message which asked that any person who had seen or heard any sign of the plane, along the route from Enniskillen to Shannon, should report at once to the Gardai.
The search for the missing plane began at first light along the whole area from Enniskillen to Shannon. Irish Army helicopters and planes intensively searched the area from the sky, while Army men and Gardai and many civilians combed the ground.
In Fermanagh, as might be expected, the search was even more intensive. From first light on Tuesday morning, the Cuilcagh and Slieve Rushen mountains were combed from the ground and the air, and even Brougher mountain area was under search in case any problem had arisen and the plane had made for Aldergrove (airport).
At least four aircraft from Enniskillen Flying Club and planes from other northern flying clubs were in the air, along with two British Army helicopters and a Scout plane. Large parties of R.U.C. and U.D.R. personnel along with civilians, were engaged in covering all areas where the plane might be expected to have landed in difficulty.
The plane, owned in partnership by Mr. MacMahon and Mr. Richard Tracey, building contractor, of Enniskillen, was a Chesna 172 single-engined aircraft with modern directional aids, including VOR and ADF, which are automatic direction finders, and a gyro magnetic compass linked to the equipment in the craft.
The plane had a full tank which meant it had sufficient fuel for four hours flying, with half an hour to spare. The flight to Shannon, from 150 to 170 miles, would be expected to take an hour and a half to an hour and three quarters. Mr. MacMahon is a founder member and first chairman of the Enniskillen Flying Club, and had 600 hours of flying experience. Fog was in the air on Monday morning and would have made flying conditions difficult.
Mrs. Magee also leaves four children, Dermot (15), a student at St. Michael’s College, where Brian MacMAhon was also a student; Marita (13), Karen (7), and Stephen (4).
Carmel MacMahon was a pupil at Mount Lourdes.