Thick fog at time of Cork crash cleared quickly, inquest told

‘I saw tip of the wing that I was sitting next to touch the ground,’ says injured passenger


Thick fog which contributed to a plane crash at Cork Airport - which claimed the lives of six people over three years ago - cleared within minutes of the tragedy, an inquest into the deaths heard today.

Sgt Mark Canny told the inquest into those killed in the Manx2 crash at Cork Airport on February 10th, 2011, that he got to the airport within three to four minutes of receiving a call at 9.55am about the crash, which had happened just minutes earlier.

Sgt Canny of Douglas Garda station said that within minutes of arriving on the scene of the crash on Runway 17 at the airport, thick fog which had reduced visibility to very low levels began to clear and the extent of the damage to the Fairchild SA227-BC Metro craft became evident.

AAIU Formal Report

An Air Accident Investigation Unit report into the crash which was published earlier this year identified poor operational decisions by the crew in attempting to land in poor visibility as being a significant factor in the cause of the crash.

Spanish pilot Jordi Sola Lopez (31), from Manresa in Spain, and co-pilot Andrew Cantle (27), from Sunderland, were killed, along with four of their 10 passengers when the aircraft crashed while attempting to land on the main runway.

The passengers killed were 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 harbour master Michael Evans (51), from Belfast.

Today at the inquest into their deaths at the Washington Street Courthouse in Cork, Coroner for South Cork, Frank O’Connell, heard evidence on what had happened from five of the six survivors aboard the Manx2 flight, operated by Spanish operator Flightline BCN.

Englishman Mark Dickens (44) said he was sitting six rows back on the right of the plane. When he looked out as they began to descend, all he could see was thick cloud, but after a minute or so the plane pulled out of the descent and circled for five or 10 minutes.

“Then we started to descend again but then we were ascending again, and the captain came back to speak to us -he had a Spanish accent - and said thick fog was reducing visibility down to 200 metres and we would circle for a bit and then a make a decision about what to do.

“There was no door or curtain between the passengers and the cockpit - I could see the pilot and the co-pilot looking at some types of map in a ringbinder booklet - there were maps or charts ... all the passengers were chatting but there was no sense of urgency or 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.”

Peter Cowley (35), from Glanmire in Co Cork, told how he slept for most of the flight but woke up to discover the plane attempting a second descent at Cork Airport before aborting and heading off towards, he believed, North Cork.

“The pilot, who was Spanish, got out of his seat to speak to us and told us that the weather was very bad down there and visibility was very poor and that he had tried to land twice but was now going to look at alternative options,” said Mr Cowley.

“I could see his Sat Nav machine and when he returned to his seat , he began adjusting it and I could see the words Shannon and Farranfore or Kerry. I then sent a text to my mother who was waiting for me, saying I thought we were going to Kerry, I have no recollection after that.”

Brendan Mallon (39) wasn’t able to attend the inquest, but in a statement made to gardaí he told how Capt Lopez came out to tell the passengers there was some problem with landing due to weather conditions and when he looked out he saw thick fog or low cloud cover.

“The pilot was very amenable, a big smile on his face. It seemed to me we were circling, the next thing I can recall is when I looked out the window, the aircraft seemed to have tilted 90 degrees - I have no recollection after that,” said Mr Mallon who was injured in the crash.

The inquest continues.