Communities in shock from a tragedy that came out of the blue
IT was just after lunchtime yesterday when the operation got under way to remove the broken remains of flight NM7100 from the runway at Cork Airport.
Broken seats were strewn around the wreckage of the small prop-engine aircraft and the doors of the cargo hold gaped open as the carcass of the fuselage was hoisted by crane onto a low-load lorry.
Clumps of muck and long grass tumbled out of the broken windows of the plane as it was eased out of its resting place where it had been embedded in the grassy strip near the runway. A large hole cut in the metal of the fuselage showed where the emergency crews had worked to recover the passengers.
But, most horrifically of all, it became immediately apparent why both pilots had lost their lives in Thursday's tragedy: there was all but nothing left of the cockpit, which seemed to have broken away on impact and the plane's propellers were twisted, bent and blackened.
Even then, fire crews stood closely by, hoses poised, in case of another outbreak of fire as the tail fins of the plane were cut off with an angle-grinder. In a hilly field near by, groups of onlookers huddled, some children among them, watching the operation to remove the wreckage that was an all-too tangible reminder of the shocking events of the previous day.
Inside the airport, the atmosphere remained hushed and subdued. Even as intending passengers gathered outside in anticipation of the runway reopening after 4pm, there was little chatter.
Sympathisers flocked to sign the book of condolences in memory of those who lost their lives as it was opened in the city, while in Limerick a book of condolence was also officially opened at Limerick City Hall. Mayor of Limerick Cllr Maria Byrne said it was only right that the people of Limerick city showed solidarity with their neighbour at this time of tragedy.
"I think it struck a chord with everybody. There was total shock across the country. People nowadays are flying a lot more and even though it's a long time since there has been a plane crash in Ireland it just puts it all into perspective," she said.
"I think the whole country really is in shock. We have Shannon Airport out the road from us which would be used by a lot of people locally and it does frighten people. And the fact this happened on own doorstep. Cork is so close to Limerick, only an hour away, it really hits home with people," she added.
Mayor Bryne said a minute's silence will be observed at the next meeting of Limerick City Council in memory of those who lost their lives.
Meanwhile, over at Cork University Hospital, two of the survivors, Donal Walsh and Lawrence Wilson -- who had been lucky enough to escape with just bruises -- were discharged in the afternoon. In a short statement released on behalf of the two men and their families, they expressed their condolences to the families of the deceased and said their thoughts and prayers were with them at this very difficult time.
They thanked the hospital, the emergency services, ambulance and fire crews and the gardai, saying: "If it wasn't for their swift action, the loss of life would have been greater."
Emotionally, the two men were "reasonably well," said A&E consultant Gerry McCarthy yesterday -- but he said it rather cautiously, adding: "Trauma doesn't go away overnight."
The four other survivors who suffered more extensive injuries will be kept in for at least "a couple of weeks" and may require further surgery, he said.
Two remain in intensive care and their condition is "serious but stable" but they were "as well as can be expected", he added. Later, Dr McCarthy told the Irish Independent of what it had been like when the hospital first got news of the air crash.
It had been a very ordinary morning in the A&E department when the first they heard was a rumour from the ambulance control. Then they got the details -- the exact location of the incident, hazards at the scene, the estimated number of casualties, the number of emergency services at the scene.
"You just kick into professional mode," explained Dr McCarthy. "One of the first things I did was to go into the waiting room and tell the people waiting for attention that a major incident had occurred and it would be unlikely that they would be able to see a doctor or nurse."
Instead, the regular patients were directed to other suitable hospitals, or asked to wait until the following day for treatment if possible.
The atmosphere at the hospital was "very calm," he said. However, he added soberly, staff were at all times very conscious that six people had lost their lives in the tragic accident.
Later, at a candlelit evensong at St Fin Barre's Cathedral in the city, prayers were offered for those who had lost their lives and their families in the hope that they would find solace amid the darkness of this time.