Courts

Saturday 26 July 2014

Manx2 survivors were terrified of being burned alive, inquest hears

Inquests into six deaths in Cork air crash began today

Ralph Riegel

Published 10/06/2014|12:06

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The scene at Cork Airport where six people died and six others were injured after the plane crashed in fog on February 10, 2011
The scene at Cork Airport where six people died and six others were injured after the plane crashed in fog on February 10, 2011

Passengers who survived the Manx2 crash at Cork Airport were terrified they were going to be burned alive as the wrecked plane caught fire.

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The revelation came as survivors paid a moving tribute to Cork Airport fire brigade units who were at the crash site within seconds in February 2011 and had the two engine blazes successfully extinguished before they could spread to the shattered fuselage.

Six people died and six survived the accident which occurred in thick fog as the Manx2.com aircraft attempted its third landing on February 10 2011.

Inquests into the six deaths following the Manx2.com crash at Cork Airport opened today.

The hearings will take two days to conclude and includes direct evidence from five of the six survivors.

Survivor Heather Elliot told the inquest 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.

Some passengers held hands and prayed as they awaited rescue while others bravely tried to help the most seriously injured.

Rescue officials were at the scene within seconds and, having extinguished the engine fires, reassured trapped passengers they would be freed.

Survivor Peter Cowley paid an emotional tribute to fire fighters for the courage and skill they showed in helped those trapped in the wreckage.

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 arising from the Manx2.com tragedy.

However, the lawsuits will not be against so-called cyber airline involved, Manx2.com.

The airline – 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.

Instead, these were contracted in from other firms to operate scheduled services with most low-cost bookings being taken over the Internet.

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

While Flightline BCN, which is based in Spain, operated the flight on the day, the aircraft itself was owned by Air Lada.

The legal actions had been signalled for Ireland but will now be pursued in Chicago in Cook County, Illinois in the US.

Six people died and six survived, four with severe injuries, when the US-built Fairchild turboprop crashed and caught fire while attempting to land at Cork Airport.

A 240 page AAIU report, which took almost three years to prepare, said the tragedy was caused by a disastrous loss of control during an attempted ‘go‐around’ by the aircraft in heavy fog.

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

The UK solicitor representing seven of the survivors and victims, James Healy-Pratt, warned that it was “a preventable accident…where lives were needlessly lost.”

The report, the most complex ever undertaken by the AAIU, was also remarkable in that it cited Spain’s aviation regulator.

It emerged the Spanish regulator was not aware the operator was using that specific aircraft on Irish services.

The AAIU found there were: “systemic deficiencies at the operational, organisational and regulatory levels…such deficiencies included pilot training, scheduling of flight crews, maintenance and inadequate oversight of the operation by the operator and the State of registration.”

It ruled the pilot was ill-prepared for the very challenging conditions he found himself facing that day while his co-pilot hadn’t even finished his training.

The AAIU cited nine major accident factors including crew fatigue, attempting an approach in poor visibility, a power level set at a prohibited level, a power differential between the two engines and inappropriate flight crew pairing.

Crucially, the flight crew were informed that there were no visibility problems at Kerry Airport but opted not to divert and attempted a third landing in fog at Cork.

The AAIU also issued 11 separate safety recommendations.

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.

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

Solicitor for seven of the families, James Healy-Pratt, praised the AAIU report.

“The families are very thankful. It is now critical that the 11 safety recommendations are followed up and delivered on.”

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