Monday 12 November 2018

Cork air crash: disastrous ‘loss of control during an attempted go-around'

Emergency workers remove the wreckage of the Manx2 Fairchild turboprop plane from the runway at Cork Airport
Emergency workers remove the wreckage of the Manx2 Fairchild turboprop plane from the runway at Cork Airport

THE crash at Cork Airport in which six people died was caused by a disastrous “loss of control during an attempted go‐around.”

The Department of Transport’s elite Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) today published their report into the tragedy just two weeks before the third anniversary of the accident.

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 in February 2011 during thick fog.

The AAIU report warned that 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 found nine major factors caused the tragedy including:

- The approach was continued in conditions of poor visibility below those required.

- The descent was continued below the decision height without adequate visual reference.

- Uncoordinated operation of the flight and engine controls when go-around was attempted.

- The engine power-levers were retarded below the normal in-flight operational range - an action prohibited in flight.

- A power difference between the engines became significant when the engine power levers were retarded below the normal in-flight range.

- Crew tiredness and fatigue.

- Inadequate command training and checking.

- Inappropriate pairing of flight crew members.

- Inadequate operator and State oversight body involved.

The AAIU has now issued 11 separate safety recommendations.

These involve the European Commission (4), European Aviation Safety Agency (3), the operator – Flightline (2), the Spanish Civil Aviation Authority (1) and the International Civil Agency Organisation (1).

Six people died when the plane, en route from Belfast, crashed on February 10 2011 as it attempted to land in thick morning fog.

Six passengers survived the crash though four sustained serious injuries.

The painstaking AAIU investigation focussed on why the aircrew attempted a third landing instead of diverting to another airport, the precise weather and visibility at the time as well as the mechanics of the 19-year old US-built turboprop aircraft.

The Irish Independent has learned that the investigation team also cross-referenced data from two fatal accidents since the Cork tragedy which involved the same aircraft type.

The US-built Fairchild/Swearingen Metroliner has a good safety record but was involved in a number of high-profile fatal accidents including the 2005 Lockhart River disaster, Australia’s worst air accident in 36 years.

A total of 15 people died.

Metroliners have been involved in two fatal accidents since the Cork tragedy.

Eight people died when a Metroliner crashed on approach to an airport in Bolivia in late 2011.

In 2012, two people died when a Metroliner cargo aircraft crashed shortly after take off near Flores Island in Uruguay.

The aircraft type has been involved in 14 major accidents since 1980 due to a variety of causes.

The publication of the AAIU report will now trigger the largest series of damages claims in modern Irish aviation history.

Compensation claims, by several of those injured in the crash and a number of the bereaved families, will be dealt with in the Republic and not Northern Ireland or Spain as initially thought.

In another twist, the legal actions are set to be taken against the aircraft’s owners and leasing agents and not the so-called ‘cyber’ airline who scheduled the flight.

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; Jordi Sola Lopez from Spain who was the pilot; Andrew Cantle from England who was the co-pilot 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.

Father of three Mark Dickens, from Kent in the UK, admitted he still feels “very lucky to be alive.”

By Ralph Riegel

Online Editors

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