The Aer Lingus crash at Tuskar Rock remains the single biggest loss in the history of Irish civil aviation. Only 14 bodies were ever recovered from the 57 passengers on board. There were no survivors.
On the morning of March, 24th, 1968, Aer Lingus Flight EI 712 left Cork Airport on schedule and bound for London. 57 passengers and 4 crew were on board the Viscount named St. Phelim and weather conditions were perfect. Tragically, the plane never reached its final destination.
Less than half an hour into its flight, the stricken Viscount's final message was picked up by London Air Traffic control:
'12,000 feet, descending, spinning rapidly.'
The plane disappeared into the sea near Tuskar Rock, just off the coast of County Wexford. There were no survivors. It remains the single biggest loss in the history of Irish civil aviation. Only 14 bodies were ever recovered.
An Irish government report was published two years after the disaster. It speculated on possible causes for the crash but produced no definitive conclusions. However, it did state that there was a possibilty that another aircraft or a missile may have caused the crash.
'There is evidence which could be construed as indicative of the possible presence of another aircraft or airborne object in the vicinity which, by reason of collision, or by its proximity causing an evasive manoeuvre to be made, or by its wake turbulence, might have been the initiating cause of an upsetting manoeuvre resulting in the Viscount entering a spin or spiral dive.'
Official Accident Report published in 1970.
This led to a blizzard of rumour surrounding the incident for many years, the most popular being that the plane had been blown out of the sky during a British military training exercise and that the whole thing had been hushed up.
What really happened?
The Royal Navy who had been hired to find the main fuselage of the plane, failed to do so even though they were using modern sonar equipment. Did they want it found?
The fuselage could have solved the mystery as to why the Viscount crashed. A local trawler-man located the fuselage on his first search, three months after the crash, and the Royal Navy were again hired to raise it from the sea-bed. But the lift was a disaster. The fuselage broke up and fell back to its final resting place at the bottom of the sea. Some people asked if the lift was botched on purpose.
Many relatives felt hurt by the lack of information and help they received from the authorities at the time of the crash and during the following years.
In 1998, they finally met at the 30th anniversary commemoration mass and they decided to form a Support Group which put pressure on the Government to re-examine the case, as the relatives still sought the truth.
A review of the Accident Report of 1970 was commissioned and raised a lot of questions, which included worries over Aer Lingus' maintenance records of the Viscount, which were missing.
A full re-investigation was commissioned and carried out by a team of international investigators, and the results were published in 2002. The report discounted a long-held theory that the Viscount had been struck by a British missile, and stated that the crash had possibly been caused by structural failure, corrosion or a bird strike.
Some of the relatives were happy with the findings, while others still believe to this day that there was a cover-up.
Scannal! looks back at that terrible day in 1968 and looks at the various conspiracy theories which surfaced over the years. Archive footage shows the search and rescue mission from the days after the crash.
Jerome's brother Neil was amongst the casualties. He still believes that British military involvement caused the crash. He has documents which he obtained from an American woman called Bonnie Gangelhoff, who lost her parents in the crash and hired a private investigator in the mid-70's in her search for the truth. These documents, although proven fakes by the British Ministry of Defence, show that a missile caused the crash. Jerome believes they are authentic.
'I don't feel that the full truth has been brought to the surface. The full truth. A lot of semantics has been used to cloud it to make it ' that's it and there's nothing more;'. But I think the cover ups are very flimsy.'
Hilda's sister, Ann Kelly was an Air Hostess on the flight. She was one of 14 bodies recovered, and the first body to be identified.
' I think when something as traumatic as that happens, you are never really the same again. Its life changing. You do see things differently. We were all so young. My sisters and I were in our early 20s. We were devastated. Absolutely devastated. It was very sad.'
Other contributors include:
Kevin Humphreys, who is Chief Inspector with the Air Accident Investigation Unit, and reviewed the 1970 Accident Report.
Micheál Ó Riain, who is now retired but worked with Aer Lingus at the time. He talks about the day of the crash, and the feeling in the company at the time.
Caitríona Doran, who was an Air Hostess in 1968 talks about how the effect that the crash had on the Aer Lingus team.
Brian O'Shea is a TD for Waterford and has had an interest in the story for many years.
Declan Ellard, is a local fisherman. He talks about the feeling locally in Wexford about the crash.
Producer Edel O'Brien
Presenter/Reporter Garry Mac Donncha