Six killed as passenger plane crashes in fog at Cork airport

Thu, Feb 10, 2011, 00:00

Six people were killed and six others are in hospital after a small aircraft crashed in dense fog at Cork airport this morning.

The Manx2 airline flight from Belfast to Cork overturned and caught fire while making a third attempt to land at about 9.45am. There was heavy fog in the area at the time and visibility was poor.

There were 10 passengers and two crew on board the twin turboprop plane at the time. It was an 18-seater Fairchild Metroliner which was leased by Manx 2 with the flight number BPS 7100.

The plane was making its third attempt to land in low visibility conditions when it crashed, flipped over and burst into flames on a grass verge.

Six people died in the crash, including the Spanish pilot and his British co-pilot.

One of the dead has been named as Pat Cullinan, a partner in KPMG. He was from Omagh and worked in the Belfast office of the accountancy firm. Another was named locally as businessman Brendan McAleese from Co Tyrone, who is is a first cousin of Dr Martin McAleese, husband of President Mary McAleese.

In a statement this evening, gardaí said those killed in the crash were three men from the North, two men resident elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and a male Spanish national. The formal confirmation of all the victims' identities is unlikely before tomorrow.

The assistant State pathologist, Margaret Bolster, has started the postmortems of the deceased, the statement added.

Two of the injured were able to walk from the wreckage of the plane, while four were taken out on stretchers. All six were taken to Cork University Hospital, which activated its major emergency plan.

The five men and one woman, who are understood to be in their 40s and 50s, incurred non life-threatening injuries. Four are seriously injured while two are described as being in a "comfortable" condition.

The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) said debris was scattered onto the runway and over a wide area.

IAA chief executive Eamonn Brennan said the plane left Belfast at 8.12am and was due in Cork at 9.10am. He said there was fog in the Cork area at the time and visibility was poor. Winds were light. “It wouldn’t have been anything more than normal circumstances for Cork,” he told RTÉ Radio.

The Department of Transport's Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) is carrying out a full investigation. One of its teams arrived in Cork this morning by helicopter. Another team is making its way by road carrying specialist equipment to aid the investigation.

AAIU spokesman Jurgen Whyte said it will examine air traffic control tapes, radar information, weather reports and the condition and operation of the aircraft to establish the cause of the crash. He said the plane had crashed, inverted and caught fire about 1,000ft down the runway.

"Investigators will be looking to recover the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. When we analyse them we will hopefully be able to establish what was going on during the final moments of the flight," he said.

As the flight originated in Belfast, Mr Whyte said UK authorities would be providing the investigation with the passenger manifest and with details of how much fuel the plane was carrying.

A team of investigators from the UK will be assisting the AAIU teams.

Mr Whyte said a preliminary report into the accident would be completed within a month but that the full investigation could take up to two years depending on its complexity. He said the Metroliner was not a modern aircraft but could fly for 30 years if it was properly certified and maintained.

Cork airport is closed following the crash. The airport said the main runway will be shut until 4pm tomorrow.

The IAA extended its sympathies to the families of those killed and injured.

President Mary McAleese expressed her deep shock and sadness. "The President said her thoughts and prayers, and those of all the people of Ireland, are with the families of the deceased and the survivors at this very difficult time," a spokeswoman said.

This evening, speaking at Trinity College Dublin, Mrs McAleese said she wished to acknowledge the tragic events at Cork airport this morning.

"Behind the headlines and news reports lie the personal stories of grieving families and friends whose hearts are surely broken as they struggle to come to terms with the abrupt and devastating loss of their loved one. I am especially conscious of the pain being experienced tonight by all of the bereaved as one of the deceased was Brendan McAleese, my husband Martin's cousin," the President said.

"His family have lost a fine and loving husband, father, son and brother and their awful grief is replicated in the lives of all those who lost their loved ones in today's crash."

Taoiseach Brian Cowen travelled to Cork University Hospital to meet the survivors. Speaking afterwards, he paid tribute to the emergency services for extinguishing the blaze which engulfed the plane within four minutes. “I think that had an impact on ensuring that people came out of the accident,” he said.

Minister for Transport Pat Carey also expressed his sympathies to everyone who had been injured and the families of those who had died.

A casualty information bureau has been set up at the airport with staff operating a helpline on 021 442 8820. Enquiries about the crash can also be addressed to the Air Accident Investigation Unit at 01 6041293.

Manx2 airlines has set up a helpline for anyone concerned about friends or relatives. It can be contacted on 0044 2890 4270 04.

Manx2 is a “virtual” airline in that it did not actually operate any aircraft itself but sells flights which are operated by a number of different carriers. It was founded in the Isle of Man and carries 100,000 passengers a year.

It announced last September that it was expanding its presence in Northern Ireland, choosing George Best Belfast City Airport as its first permanent base outside the Isle of Man and launching the twice-daily service from Belfast to Cork. The flight takes about 70 minutes.

Aer Lingus cancelled four flights in and out of Cork after the accident while a number of others were diverted to Shannon. A number of flights tomorrow have been cancelled and others will operate from Shannon. Customers will be notified by text message of these and other schedule changes.

Ryanair said a number of flights scheduled to arrive in and depart from Cork today were operating from Shannon.