Dr Deborah Brosnan, the only Irish passenger on the Singapore Airlines flight which crashed in Taipei on Tuesday evening killing 78 people, last night described how she thought she was "going to be fried" as flames engulfed the aircraft. "I was really frightened, really scared, and then I thought - I've two children grown up, fine, I don't want to leave them yet, and I said to myself, maybe it's not my time, and that thought kept running through my head."
Dr Brosnan, a marine biologist, and her British husband, Mr Steven Courtney, managed to scramble from the burning aircraft. Speaking from a hotel in Taipei, she told The Irish Times that she had suffered only bruised ribs. Her husband, however, received burns over 20 per cent of his body and is being treated at a Taipei Hospital. The couple were returning home to Portland, Oregon, after attending a marine conservation conference in Bali, when Flight SQ006, bound for Los Angeles, touched down in Taiwan for a one-hour refuelling stop.
They were seated at the back of the aircraft, which saved their lives. Almost all the casualties came from the forward economy area. Dr Brosnan was in row 61 and her husband a couple of rows behind. They had chosen seats in empty rows because they intended to stretch out and sleep when airborne. Dr Brosnan said she sensed that they were in danger even before take-off. "It was in the middle of a hurricane, there were definitely gale force winds," she recalled. "Just before we took off, I looked out and saw the wings banging up and down and I remember thinking `this is bad'. Two people asked the attendants if it was OK to take off and she said `we always fly in typhoons.' The pilot's voice came on. He was very short. He just said `Fasten your seat belts, we're going'.
"As we were about to take off there was a bang, and then another bang and the panels of the plane fell on top of me. I had the seat belt on but I found myself sliding down against the window on to my back. I curled into a ball. I could see a flame coming. I looked up and saw a fireball coming over my head. Then everything went quiet." It was then that she thought she was going to die. "At first, I couldn't believe I was witnessing this," she said. But she quickly got up and found her husband by climbing over seats. "We found an exit but couldn't get it open. Someone said go forward. We climbed over the bulkhead. We slid down on to the grass and we were out." Dr Brosnan said she saw people hanging upside down from their seatbelts and screaming. She doesn't know if they survived. She discovered her dress was covered in gasoline and ran to a drainage gully which "looked like a raging sea".
The rain was driving horizontally across the runway. A white van came along. "I ran across the tarmac screaming at it to stop. It picked us up and took us to the terminal. I looked back and all I could see was a ball of fire." Dr Brosnan (43) was born in Limerick and graduated from NUI Galway. She has published several papers on marine conservation and is working on a book on the subject.