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Monday 15 September 2014

I was terrified that we'd survived plane crash only to be burned alive

Published 11/06/2014 | 02:30

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The scene of the Manx2 air crash in Cork Airport in February 2001. Provision
Six people died and six others were injured when the Manx2 plane crashed in fog at Cork Airport. PA
Six people died and six others were injured when the Manx2 plane crashed in fog at Cork Airport. PA
Emergency workers remove the wreckage of the Manx2 Fairchild turboprop plane from the runway at Cork Airport

THE survivors of a plane crash were terrified they were going to burn alive as the wrecked Manx2.com plane caught fire on the runway.

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Six people died and six survived the crash which happened as a flight from Belfast to Cork attempted its third landing in thick fog at 9.48am on February 10, 2011.

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

Survivor Heather Elliot (57) told a coroner's inquest that 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.

Options

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.

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.

Coroner Dr Frank O'Connell heard 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.

The six dead were 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.

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 Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) report published last January, will now be central to the civil claims.

AAIU lead investigator Leo Murray 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 240-page AAIU report took almost three years to prepare.

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.

Irish Independent

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