An Air Corps helicopter crashed in dense fog in County Waterford, resulting in the deaths of its four-man crew. The Dauphin helicopter burst into flames, after it crashed down into a large sand dune at Tramore beach. The crew members, who were in their late twenties or early thirties, have been named as Captain Dave O’Flaherty, from Lucan in Dublin; Captain Michael Baker, from Wexford; Sergeant Paddy Mooney, from Meath; and Corporal Niall Byrne, from Dublin.

The four were returning from a successful rescue mission, but crashed having aborted three attempted landings at Waterford Airport due to the foggy conditions. The Dauphin helicopter only began operating from County Waterford yesterday, in order to give the region a 24-hour rescue service. It had replaced the Alouette, which can only fly during daylight hours. This is the first crash of an Air Corps helicopter in active service in the history of the state.

President Mary McAleese and the Taoiseach have led the messages of sympathy to the families of the four Air Corp personnel. Bertie Ahern said that he is deeply shocked by the tragedy. In a statement, Mr Ahern said that the untimely death of the four men was all the more poignant given that they themselves had helped to save the lives of people on a vessel in distress a short time before the crash.

The Dáil stood for a minutes' silence when it met this morning in memory of the four Air Corps pilots. Speaking on behalf of the Government, the Minister for Public Enterprise, Mary O'Rourke said that the tragedy was a timely reminder of the risks that members of the Defence Forces take in carrying out their duties. The Fine Gael leader, John Bruton, said that, by not taking unnecessary risks at sea, all citizens could play their part in ensuring that such tragic accident did not happen again. The Labour leader, Ruairí Quinn, said that a tragedy such as this affects us all and reminds us of the dangers which face those who do such important work on our behalf.

It has emerged that two of those who died piloted a helicopter that brought the Taoiseach to the Stormont talks earlier this week. An investigation into the cause of the crash is under way. The scene of the accident has been sealed off by Gardaí, and air accident investigators from the Department of Defence and the Army are studying the remains of the wreckage.

The Galway Millennium Air Show, which was to have taken place on Sunday, has been cancelled as a mark of respect to the four Air Corps crewmen. Air Corps air/sea rescue teams and the RAF's Red Arrows were to have performed at the show. The show organisers said that the Air Corps had been an integral part of the event since 1993 and that they wanted to extend their deepest sympathy to the families of the four crewmen.