Willenhall pilot speaks of horror after being smashed in face by his own propeller
A former RAF engineer was smashed in the face by the propeller of his own plane in a freak accident, leaving him with serious injuries.
Dominic Whelan, from Willenhall, ‘thought he was going to die’ when he was slashed by the blade as he carried out work on his microlight at Otherton Airfield in Penkridge.
Four weeks later he wrecked the aircraft, nicknamed Floaty McFloatface, in a crash. Mr Whelan and his 15-year-old son Michael escaped unhurt.
But the 42-year-old has not been put off flying and has even kept the propeller as a souvenir of the day he describes as being ‘like a Carry On’ film.
A report into the accident in March revealed how his plane, a Mercury microlight, had jumped over a block put in front of its wheel to keep it in place, and rolled forward 10 feet.
Fearing for the safety of another man at the airfield, off Micklewood Lane, Mr Whelan leapt out of his plane to get the chock without turning off the propellers.
Not being able to see the propellers as they were going at such speed, the former RAF serviceman leant down to get the block from the back of the plane when he was stuck across the face by the propeller.
He told the Express & Star: “When I did it it took a couple of seconds to realise what had happened.
“I put my hand to my face, saw the claret coming down, and felt a hole. I fell forward and swore I was going to die. Who would not feel that when they have just been struck by a five foot propeller?”
His partner, 39-year-old Rachel Daker, added: “The first thing he did was phone us as he was holding his face together. He spoke to Mikey who phoned me. I didn’t realise how bad it was and so I went home first to get some plasters and bandages.”
Men working at the airfield rushed to Mr Whelan’s aid but it soon became like a scene out of a Carry On film, he says, as an air ambulance despatched to take him to Royal Stoke Hospital had no fuel and the ambulance he was then put in got stuck in mud.
Eventually he made it to the trauma centre at the north Staffordshire hospital and after several hours and more than two dozen stitches he was allowed home to Pooles Lane.
Mr Whelan still bares a scar across his face from the accident five months ago and admits his face still hurts every day.
“He says he is very lucky not to have been blinded by the propeller which struck him just centimetres away from his eyes.
The newly-published Air Accident Investigation Branch report into the incident on March 26 states Mr Whelan had just 33 hours flying experience before the accident.
But he has dismissed claims he was a ‘novice’ having served in the RAF for 13 years and being around planes for 20 years.
“It was just a lapse in concentration,” he said.
“I know my way around planes both stationary and flying.”
The report said the horror accident ‘serves as a stark reminder of the potentially lethal power of a propeller’.
Not put off his lifelong dream to fly planes, Mr Whelan was back in the cockpit of the same plane just weeks later as he needed to take the second part of his test to gain a microlight pilots licence.
He had been carrying out the maintenance work on March 26 because his plane had misfired during the first part of his test the day before.
“I was scared to get back in a plane,” the former RAF man admitted after the horror accident, “but I was not going to let it beat me. I have wanted to fly planes all my life.”
Asked for any advice he had for fellow pilots after the incident, Mr Whelan said: “Don’t walk into moving propellers.”
Mr Whelan continued flying the same plane until three weeks ago when it was ruined after a crash landing. The front wheel on the microlight collapsed as it landed on the Otherton runway, causing the plane to veer off and roll over.
Mr Whelan sent the parts off to the manufacturer who revealed it was a hidden fatigue problem and not the 42-year-old’s fault.
Having bought a new plane and continuing to fly, Mr Whelan has kept the propeller that damaged his face and intends to put it up on the wall at his home.
“The propeller came off worse,” he quipped. “Dom Whelan 1 Propeller 0.”