‘The most frightening bit was when someone said plane was on fire’
Survivor of plane crash tells of fear of being burned alive after surviving initial impact
A survivor of the Manx2 aircrash at Cork Airport which claimed the lives of six people today spoke of her horror and fear that she was going to be burned alive in the plane after surviving the initial impact when the plane crashed and flipped over on to its roof.
Heather Elliott (56), originally from Cork but living in Belfast, had boarded the Manx2 flight at George Best Airport to travel to Cork to visit her mother in Kinsale when the crash happened on the morning of February 10th, 2011.
Ms Elliott told the Coroner for South Cork, Frank O’Connell at the inquest how the most terrifying moment of the entire tragedy was the immediate aftermath of the crash when she realised the engines of the plane were on fire.
“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 told how she had struck up a conversation in the departure lounge in Belfast with fellow passenger, Laurence Wilson (58) and 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 hands. Laurence and I said a prayer together and then we heard voices and banging outside and we know that somebody was coming to help.”
Ms Elliott had earlier told the inquest of her impression of what happened when the Fairchild SA227-BC Metro piloted by Captain Jordi Sola Lopez (31) from Manresa in Spain, and co-pilot Andrew Cantle (27) from Sunderland in the UK, attempted to land in thick fog.
“The pilots told us that they were going to try again (after the first two attempts).
I don’t know which of them said it to us but they said the weather had improved and they were going to try again, and we went back down in quite thick fog,” said Ms Elliott.
“The thought crossed my mind that maybe I should brace myself. There was a bit of a niggle in my mind that something wasn’t right. I was concerned that the pilots couldn’t see where they were going, the fog was so thick.
“I remember the wheels being lowered and waiting for the thump on the ground but just before we were to land, there seemed to be a sharp turn to the left and then I think it did straighten up and then there was a thump and I thought we had landed.
“I was waiting for the thrust of the engines. It was like a car crash. I felt myself tumbling and the space around me getting smaller and everything came to a standstill. I realised I was alive and conscious and I knew I wasn’t badly hurt. I was in a kind of foetal position.”
Fellow passenger Laurence Wilson (58) from Belfast told today’s inquest that on their first attempt to land, the pilot came very close to the runway as he could see the lights on the runway but he pulled out and the plane ascended and went around again.
“On the third attempt, the pilot took us a long way around and the co-pilot announced that the weather had changed for the better and that he was going to try and land the aircraft. This was relayed to me by the man sitting in front of me.
“Coming into the land for the third time, I was looking out the window on the left .... the ground appeared to 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.
“The lady sitting opposite me (Ms Elliott) started screaming. I held her hand and then I heard Donal Walsh (another passenger) say: ‘It’s a fire’.
“At that stage I could hear the emergency services saying: “We will be with you soon,” said Mr Wilson.
Mr Walsh (26) from Waterford city told how after aborting the first two attempts to land, Capt Lopez came out of the cockpit and signalled with his hands that they had already made two attempts to land but that they would circle again a third time.
He said he quickly realized as the plane descended the third time in the fog and he spotted grass or the runway coming up very quickly that they were travelling too fast and it was not going to be smooth landing.
“I braced myself by putting my head between my legs and held my head in my hands - the plane moved in an upward direction to the right as if the pilot was going to pull out and abort landing once more. Then there was a thud and a crash and I think the plane turned over.
“I knew the plane had crashed and I was waiting for the final blow,” said Mr Walsh adding that he managed to free himself after the engine stopped and made his way along the upturned roof as mud started to come into through the roof of the fuselage.
Along with crew members, Capt Lopez and Co-pilot Cantle, others to lose their lives in the crash included passengers Richard Noble (48), from Belfast, Patrick Cullinan (45) living in Belfast; Brendan McAleese (39), from Co Antrim and Michael Evans (51), from Belfast.
The inquest continues.