Cork Airport crash inquest hears from survivors

Wednesday 11 June 2014 13.11
The inquest into the deaths of six people in a plane crash at Cork Airport has begun
The inquest into the deaths of six people in a plane crash at Cork Airport has begun

An inquest into the deaths of six people in a plane crash in Cork three years ago, has heard evidence from survivors that they felt the plane was travelling too fast, as it made its third and final attempt to land at Cork Airport.

The Manx2 aircraft caught fire after the crash.

One of the survivors said, having survived the impact, she felt she was now going to be burnt alive.

The 19-seater plane was on its way from Belfast, with ten passengers and two crew, when it crashed in dense fog after failing to land on its third attempt at Cork Airport.

Three years and four months after Ireland's worst air crash in almost 50 years, the inquest opened today to hear what happened from those who were there.

Heather Elliott was travelling from Belfast to visit her mother in Kinsale.

She described the plane descending into thick fog and said she was concerned that the pilot could not see.

The plane then crashed and went on fire.

Ms Elliott said she was terrified that, having survived the crash, she was now going to be burned alive.

She said she held the hand of fellow passenger Laurence Wilson and they both prayed.

Mr Wilson said mud which filled the aircraft was suffocating him.

Both he and Ms Elliott were rescued soon afterwards.

Mark Dickens' choice of seat may have saved his life.

He sat on the right, over the wing, because that seat had more leg room.

He said the plane appeared to be coming in to land at a 45-degree angle and he felt it was going too fast.

He saw the right wing tip hit the ground first as the plane crashed.

A number of the survivors paid tribute to the emergency services.

Cork's major accident and emergency plan was activated to deal with the crash.

Superintendent Charlie Barry who oversaw the plan described the crash as a terrible tragedy.

John McCarthy of the Cork Airport Police told the inquest about the efforts that he and other emergency services personnel made to rescue people from the aircraft. 

He said cutting equipment had to be used to get several of the passengers out of their seats.

Mr McCarthy told the inquest that most of the fatalities were seated in the forward of the aircraft.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster, told the inquest that one of the casualties of the crash, Brendan McAleese, would have been rendered unconscious immediately and would not have suffered.

She said that he died from a number of injuries, including major head injuries.

Concluding her evidence, Dr Bolster said the six people who died all suffered major head and brain injuries that were common in cases of blunt force trauma such as an aviation crash.

Some of the six suffered haemorrhages and lacerations to their aortas.

The aorta carries the blood supply from the heart around the body and when it is lacerated blood pressure drops immediately, leading to unconsciousness.

One of the investigators in the Air Accident Investigation Unit told the inquest that the decision to attempt a landing for the third time was taken solely by the captain of the Manx Airlines flight, even though the air traffic control tower had told the pilot weather conditions at Kerry Airport, which is just 40 nautical miles away, was much better.

Leo Murray said it was not up to the tower to tell the pilot not to land.

He said it is up to the pilot to know the minimum requirements that an aircraft needs to land safely. "The decision to approach is solely up to the commander", he said.

Mr Murray was responding to a question from Coroner O'Connell, who wanted to know if it was standard for air traffic control to tell an aircraft to divert.

Mr Murray said the pilot had been told the weather in Shannon and Waterford was not good but that conditions in Kerry were.

More information emerging

In the three years and four months since the crash, a considerable amount of information about what happened has come into the public domain.

Principally, the final report of the Air Accident Investigation Unit was published.

It highlighted insufficient consideration of weather conditions by the crew and inadequate oversight of the Spanish company that operated the flight by Spain's aviation regulator.

The inquest, due to last two days, will hear testimony from most of the survivors, as well as from staff of the emergency services.

Relatives of those who died are also expected to attend.