THE expertise and flying hours clocked up by the pilots of the Manx2 aircraft that crash landed at Cork Airport will form a key part of the official investigation into the tragedy that claimed six lives.
The airline last night insisted that both men were fully qualified and experienced -- but the Spanish pilot, Jordi Lopez (31), only infrequently operated as captain while his British co-pilot, Andrew Cantle (27), joined the airline only three weeks ago.
Mr Lopez was with the airline for 10 months and had 1800 hours of flight time on that type of aircraft, the airline said. The airline also said Mr Cantle had been with the firm for three weeks and had 720 hours flight time -- however, other aviation sources disputed this, saying he had over 300 hours of flight time.
Manx2.com chairman, Noel Hayes, last night insisted that both men were "absolutely" qualified to handle the plane in the weather conditions prevailing at Cork Airport on Thursday morning.
"All their training records, their full records, their qualifications have been passed to the Air Accident Investigation Bureau," he said.
However, the families of the two pilots indicated that they were relatively inexperienced. Mr Lopez was a very experienced co-pilot -- but had only been promoted to captain in recent months. He was not a member of the Spanish airline pilots' association, SEPLA.
Mr Cantle had joined the airline only three weeks before the fatal crash after he had previously been on a temporary contract with AeroNova. AeroNova marketing director, Marco Serusi, said he joined them with 300 hours of flight time - and clocked up 40 hours while with the airline.
It has now emerged the right wing tip of the Manx2 aircraft disastrously clipped the runway as it attempted to land for the third time in dense fog. The 19-year old Fairchild Metroliner then skidded for 190 metres on its back along the concrete runway before catching fire as it came to a stop on the grass verge in front of the airport terminal. Also being examined after being taken to Britain will be the two black boxes, the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder.
Last night, two senior inspectors of the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU), Paddy Judge and Graham Liddy, revealed to the Irish Independent they were now building up an outline of the last moments of Flight NM 7100.
Mr Judge -- an experienced former pilot -- said it was "unusual" for a pilot to attempt a third landing in fog. "It is unusual all right -- but it is not, in fact, prohibited. Each company would have its own operating rules.
"There (are) a lot of tensions associated with operating an aircraft, especially in low visibility such as we had here on that day."
"There is a lot of stress that arises from that. Most operators would say that if you shoot two approaches, then in fact you have a particular amount of improvement in the weather before you should shoot a third. But it is far too early for us to go speculating as to whether he should or whether he shouldn't or what a pilot did or what a pilot didn't," he said.
Mr Judge confirmed he had now interviewed five of the six survivors of the crash.
"It went as you would expect -- obviously a lot of people are shocked and in pain and they were very good to see me. Your heart goes out to them -- but it is part of what we do to speak with them as early as possible. Five of the six have spoken to us.
"The other person is in intensive care -- we would hope to see that person when they recover sufficiently," he said.
Mr Liddy said there was no sign of a fire erupting before the plane ground to a standstill.
"We have a lot of the jigsaw -- but we don't have the full jigsaw at this point in time. But we think we have a fairly clear picture of the final moments of the aircraft," he said.
Cork Airport re-opened at 7.14pm last night with a total of 83 flights diverted, operated from Shannon or cancelled since the crash.