Monday 24 November 2014

Accidental death verdicts returned in Cork air crash inquest

Published 11/06/2014 | 13:20

A CORK coroner's inquest returned verdicts of accidental death for six people who died in the Manx2.com crash at Cork Airport three years ago.

Six people died, including both the pilot and co-pilot, while six passengers survived when the Fairchild Metroliner twin engined turboprop crashed on its third attempt to land in thick fog on February 10 2011.

Coroner Frank O'Connell said it was not the job of the seven-member jury to apportion blame for the tragedy.

Mr O'Connell described it as an horrific tragedy and said he hoped he never again had to handle an inquest involving six deaths.

The verdict was returned after Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) senior inspector, Leo Murray, said the pilot and co-pilot were not equipped with the tools such as bad weather experience to handle the situation they found themselves in that day.

Poor decisions were compounded by fatigue and the pressure the pilots placed on themselves to land at Cork.

He said the prudent option would have been to divert to another airport after the Belfast flight had been forced to abort its second landing attempt at Cork due to poor visibility.

Air Traffic Control supervisor, Sean Patrick, confirmed that the pilots were informed in the minutes before the crash that while visibility at Cork was just 300m the visibility at Kerry Airport was around 10km.

Mr O'Connell confirmed the accidental death verdicts for all six deceased as he extended his deepest sympathies to the bereaved families.

Passengers who survived the crash landing at 9.48 am admitted that they initially feared they would be burned alive at the wrecked plane caught fire.

Survivors paid tribute to Cork Airport fire brigade units who were at the crash site within seconds and had the two engine blazes successfully extinguished before they could spread to the fuel-soaked fuselage.

Survivor Heather Elliot (57) said passengers feared the spread of fire in the seconds after the wrecked plane came to a standstill lying upside down.

"I was so terrified that we had survived the crash only to be burned alive," she said.

Passengers smelled smoke and aviation fuel as the shattered plane lay on its roof half filled with mud.

Ms Elliot and another trapped passenger, Laurence Wilson (58), held hands and prayed.

Another passenger, Peter Cowley (35), revealed he saw Shannon and Farranfore Airports on the plane’s SatNav system for possible diversions but the pilots opted to attempt a third landing in fog at Cork.

Cork fire brigade crews led by Kevin Dunne and John McCarthy had the aircraft fire doused in seconds - and all survivors removed from the wreckage in 30 minutes.

The fog was so thick rescue personnel initially couldn’t see the plane crash and only spotted its burning engines across Runway 17.

Cork triggered its major emergency plan with Supt Charlie Barry confirming 191 emergency personnel were involved backed by 54 fire appliances and ambulances.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Margaret Bolster said the six fatalities suffered multiple blunt trauma injuries ranging from fractured skulls to ruptured aortas as well as severe internal organ damage.

All died virtually instantly.

However, Dr Bolster also found that the co-pilot, Andrew Cantle, had suffered a broken wrist and arm.

Such injuries are indicative of being at the controls at the time of impact.

The pilot, Jordi Sola Lopez from Spain, had a fractured skull and ribs.

The inquest evidence and verdicts, combined with the hard-hitting AAIU report published last January, will now be central to the civil claims.

The AAIU ruled the tragedy was caused by a disastrous loss of control during an attempted ‘go‐around’ by the aircraft in heavy fog.

The co-pilot was handling the plane aerodynamics while the pilot was manning its engine operations.

The report found that poor decisions by the air crew combined with lack of oversight of the Spanish airline operators were factors in the tragedy.

Manx2.com – which is based in the Isle of Man and is now in liquidation – did not own its own aircraft and did not directly employ its own aircrew.

Civil claims are now being brought against Spanish firms Air Lada and Flightline BCN from whom Manx2.com contracted the plane and aircrew.

The legal actions were planned for Ireland but will now be pursued in Chicago in Cook County, Illinois in the US.

The 240 page AAIU report took almost three years to prepare.

The six dead included Brendan McAleese, a cousin of President Mary McAleese’s husband, Martin; Pat Cullinan, a partner in KPMG’s Belfast office; Michael Evans, Belfast Deputy Harbour Commissioner; pilot Jordi Sola Lopez; co-pilot Andrew Cantle from England and businessman Richard Noble from Belfast.

Widow Ann-Marie McAleese attended the inquest together with Rose Cullinan, mother of Pat Cullinan, and the parents of co-pilot Andrew Cantle, John and Ann.

The parents of the pilot, Jordi Sola Lopez, were represented by the Spanish Consul, Cathy Goode.

Angela Rankin represented the Evans family.

Other bereaved families including widow Alison Noble were too upset to attend.

The six passengers who survived were Heather Elliot, Peter Cowley, Brendan Mallon, Mark Dickens, Donal Walsh and Laurence Wilson.

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