'Walking miracles' among the carnage
Heartbreak for families as six die in commuter flight tragedy
Published 11/02/2011 | 05:00
A MAN and a woman described as "walking miracles" emerged virtually unscathed from the smouldering wreckage of the aircraft that crashed at Cork Airport yesterday in which six people died.
Donal Walsh (22) from Waterford and Heather Elliot (42) from Belfast cheated death as the turboprop aircraft crashed after landing in a thick blanket of fog early yesterday. The tiny 19-seater Manx2 Airlines craft hit the ground, flipped onto its back and disintegrated before bursting into flames.
Six people died -- but six others, including Mr Walsh and Mrs Elliot -- incredibly survived the 19-year-old plane disintegrating.
Two of the survivors are said to be in critical condition.
Minutes after his near-death experience, Mr Walsh sent a text to his father, John, and friends saying: "I am fine with very minor injuries, all things considered -- thank God."
One of the victims was a cousin of President Mary McAleese's husband Martin -- Brendan McAleese, a father of two who was travelling to Cork on business. Mrs McAleese said the nation's hearts "were surely broken" over the sheer scale of the tragedy.
The passengers killed in the crash were last night named locally. They were Mr McAleese; Pat Cullinan, a partner in the Belfast office of the accountancy firm KPMG, who was from Omagh, Co Tyrone; Michael Evans, who worked as Deputy Harbour Master in Belfast; and Richard Noble, from Belfast.
Andrew Cantle, the co-pilot from the UK, and the pilot, Jorge Lopez, from Spain, also died in the disaster.
As well as Mrs Elliot and Mr Walsh, other survivors included Laurence Wilson, Mark Dickens, Brendan Mallon and Peter Cowley.
The investigations -- which include probes by the Irish, British and Spanish authorities -- will now focus on weather conditions being a factor in the accident.
The tragedy is the worst civil aviation accident in Irish airport history.
Five separate investigations are now under way into the tragedy, including probes by Spanish, British and US officials.
Fog and reduced visibility on the approach to the airport is now the primary focus of the investigations.
The flight voice recorder has been recovered from the turboprop. The Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) may have a preliminary report into the tragedy by as soon as next month.
Cork University Hospital (CUH) Professor, Dr Stephen Cusack, who helped set up the temporary emergency medical facility at Cork Airport, said he could not believe anyone survived.
"To be quite honest, given the amount of damage done (to the aircraft), it is quite remarkable that half of the people onboard survived," he said.
The father of survivor Donal Walsh (22) last night told how his son emerged "covered in muck" but grateful to be alive.
Mr Walsh, from John's Hill in Waterford, was recovering from his ordeal in Cork University Hospital (CUH).
But he was still able to ring his father to assure him he was alright.
"(Donal) didn't appear to have any serious injuries but while he seems okay, we don't know the long-term effects," Mr Walsh said.
Meanwhile, another family were hailing the escape of their daughter from the doomed flight as "a miracle".
Heather Elliot (42) from Kinsale, Co Cork, was seated near the wing of the plane.
However, she somehow escaped unharmed despite the entire section of the aircraft in front of her being destroyed.
Heather is now resident in Belfast, but regularly returns to Cork to visit her family in Kinsale.
The mother-of-two was last night said to be shocked and relieved at her escape from serious injury.