Cork crash survivors tell inquest of their ordeal

Manx2 aircraft was making third attempt to land when wing hit the ground, say witnesses

Inquest: investigators at the scene of the Manx2 air crash, at Cork Airport. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Inquest: investigators at the scene of the Manx2 air crash, at Cork Airport. Photograph: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Wed, Jun 11, 2014, 01:00

Surviving passengers yesterday gave graphic descriptions of coming close to death, at the inquest into the deaths of six people in the Manx2 crash at Cork Airport following a flight from Belfast three years ago.

Among those who died were pilot Jordi Sola Lopez (31), from Manresa in Spain, and copilot Andrew Cantle (27), from Sunderland in the UK, along with four of their 10 passengers on the flight from Belfast to Cork, on February 10th, 2011.

Businessman Richard Noble (48), from Belfast; accountant Patrick Cullinan (45), originally from Co Tyrone but living in Belfast; businessman Brendan McAleese (39), from Co Antrim; and harbourmaster, Michael Evans (51), from Belfast also lost their lives in the crash.

Yesterday’s inquest heard evidence from the six survivors of the crash, including Heather Elliott (56) from Belfast, who said she feared she was going to be burned alive in the aircraft after surviving the initial impact, when it crashed and flipped over on to its roof.

“The most frightening bit was when somebody said, ‘She’s going to go up,’ meaning the plane was going to go on fire – I could smell fuel and fumes. I was so terrified that I had survived the crash and now would be burned alive,” she said.

Ms Elliott said she had struck up a conversation in the departure lounge in Belfast with fellow passenger Laurence Wilson (58). In the impact, he had ended up on top of her, weighing down on her neck and shoulders, but they both reassured each other they were alive.

“Laurence and I were speaking to each other – we freed our hands and now we could hold each other’s hands. Laurence and I said a prayer together and then we heard voices and banging outside and we knew that somebody was coming to help.”

Weather improving

Mr Wilson told the inquest the plane was making its third attempt to land at Cork Airport after it had to abort its first two attempts due to poor visibility. The copilot announced the weather was improving and they would make a third approach.

“Coming into the land for the third time, I was looking out the window on the left . . . the ground appeared too close and I noticed the aircraft had not slowed down properly for landing . . . as I was looking out the window, I suddenly saw grass, not the runway.

“As soon as I saw the ground, at that exact time, the pilot gave the aircraft thrust and the aircraft went into the air but the aircraft banked to the right and the right-hand wing touched the grass. All I remember was loads of mud, like suffocating me, all on my face, all over me.”

Fellow passenger Mark Dickens (44), from England, said prior to that third and final approach he had seen both Mr Lopez and Mr Cantle looking at some maps while the passengers on board the 19-seater SA 227-BC Metro chatted easily without any sense of panic.

“As we came through the cloud, I suddenly saw the runway only about 30 feet away – we seemed to be coming in at an angle to the runway rather than straight on to it – I would say about 45 degrees. I knew we were travelling too fast and I shouted we were going to crash.

“I felt and heard the engine surge and we banked to the right – I saw the tip of the wing that I was sitting next to touch the ground. The whole episode I have described from exiting the fog to the wing touching the ground was about five seconds,” said Mr Dickens.

The inquest also heard from air accident inspector Leo Murray, who said the plane flew in a holding pattern for 25 minutes before the ill-fated third attempt.

Air-traffic control lost contact with it at 9.50am, as it crashed in thick fog, approaching the airport’s main runway, Runway 17.


Mr Murray said the accident, which was the subject of a 244-page report published by the Air Accident Investigation Unit last January, was the result of a catastrophic loss of control of the aircraft at a low height from which recovery was not possible.

The decision to conduct several approaches in the conditions was solely at the discretion of the aircraft commander and, while Mr Cantle was at the flying controls, it appeared from cockpit recordings that Mr Lopez took over the engine controls on the third approach, he said

Earlier, Kevin Dunne of Cork Airport Police and Fire Service told the inquest he had received an alarm call at 9.52am. He followed a trail of debris along the runway in the thick fog until he saw the glow from the aircraft’s burning engines and found it upturned some 40m off the runway.

His colleague John McCarthy, who was the first person to enter the upturned aircraft, said emergency services managed to evacuate the injured within 30 minutes and it appeared that all the fatalities occurred at the front of the aircraft which bore the brunt of the impact.

Sgt Mark Canny told how he got to the airport within four minutes of receiving a call at 9.55am about the crash.

Within minutes of arriving out on the runway, the fog, which the AAIU had identified as a factor in the crash, began to clear. The inquest continues today.