A moment of movie magic turned to disaster in August 1970 when four people were killed in a plane crash during the filming of World War I film ‘Zeppelin’ off Wicklow Head.
During a scene involving a plane and an Alouette II camera helicopter, the two aircraft collided, resulting in the loss of the lives of the director, camera man and two pilots.
Vincent O’Reilly, who was working in a factory on the waterfront, was the first to ring the emergency services.
‘There weren’t many phones on the go in the 1970s but I had the phone beside me in work and when I saw it happen, I gave the emergency services a call,’ he said. ‘As far as I am aware, I was the first one to do so.’
The Irish Air Corp pilot Jim Liddy of the SE.5A and all on board the Alouette were killed, including pilot Gilbert ‘Gilly’ Chomat, renowned cameraman Skeets Kelly and director Burch Williams.
Two of the main actors in the film were Michael York and Elke Sommer but neither were involved in the accident.
Vincent’s brother Stan also recalls the catastrophe.
‘I remember the shock and the horror,’ he said. ‘People down there were outside watching the filming for the day and they couldn’t believe what they were seeing.’
Tommy Dover of the Wicklow RNLI also has vivid memories of the crash, despite being very young at the time.
‘We were kids when it happened. There were about seven or eight planes and a helicopter with the crew so we went to the castle to watch the filming,’ he said. ‘I just remember the bang. It was my first time experiencing fear. Everyone started shouting to get the lifeboat.’
It is understood that the same aircraft had been used only several weeks previously during the filming of ‘The Blue Max’ and everything had run smoothly. Witnesses of the Zeppelin disaster believe that the two aircraft may have accidentally veered too close to one another.
Despite the accident, the film was completed and later released in 1971 under the director Etienne Perier.
(First published in the Wicklow People newspaper: print edition. Also available online at: http://www.independent.ie/regionals/wicklowpeople/news/wicklow-residents-recall-the-day-a-film-crew-met-their-fate-35046061.html)