Two investigations are under way into the deaths of a flying instructor and a trainee pilot in a light aircraft crash in Co Offaly.

They have been named locally as flying instructor Niall Doherty from Roscrea and trainee pilot Damien Deegan from Crinkle.

They died after their aircraft went down near Birr shortly before 5pm yesterday.

Post mortem examinations were to be carried out on the bodies of the two men at the Midland Regional Hospital Tullamore today.

Shannon air traffic controllers raised the alarm when the Cessna 150 aircraft disappeared from their screens.

The light plane had taken off from Birr Airfield where the Ormand Flying Club is based.

Emergency services began a search in an area south of the town and found the plane in woodland but were initially unable to recover the men's bodies because of fears over a fuel spill.

The plane's fuselage has been taken to Gormanstown for further investigation.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Air Accident Investigation Unit  Chief Executive Jurgen Whyte said the fact that the plane was over 40 years old was not a significant factor as it may have been on its second or third engine.

Mr Whyte said that small training aircraft, such as the one that crashed, are not obliged to keep a recorder.

He added that all such planes are required to have a full maintenance record and a certificate for air worthiness, and that this information will be examined as part of the technical examination.

The AAIU has called for anyone who may have seen the aircraft in the moments before it crashed to contact the unit.