Monday 22 January 2018

Tragic twist sealed six passengers' fate as crash deaths ruled accidental

Heather Elliott, survivor, is embraced by Mark Dickens, survivor at the Manx Air Crash inquest in Cork yesterday. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Heather Elliott, survivor, is embraced by Mark Dickens, survivor at the Manx Air Crash inquest in Cork yesterday. Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

The young pilot of the aircraft which crashed at Cork Airport killing six people was faced with foggy conditions he was ill- equipped to handle.

Captain Jordi Sola Lopez (32) was thinking about diverting to Kerry when, in a cruel twist of fate, foggy weather at Cork began to slightly improve on February 10, 2011.

He made the fateful decision to attempt a third landing, but the wing of the 19-year-old US-built Fairchild Metroliner touched the ground in poor visibility and the plane overturned, erupting in flames.

Six people died – including both flight crew – while six passengers survived, four with serious injuries.

"He was faced with a situation on the day of the accident that he did not have the necessary tools. . . to make prudent command decisions," said Air Accident Investigation Unit chief inspector Leo Murray.

"He put himself under considerable pressure to land at Cork and that is why he chose the third approach."

Verdicts of accidental death were yesterday returned by Cork coroner Frank O'Connell for the six people, two crew and four passengers who died when the twin-engine turboprop crashed at 9.48am.

"If the visibility had not changed while he was holding (above Cork Airport) I think he may have taken the prudent decision to divert to Kerry," said Mr Murray.

"He was thinking about diverting . . . it was unfortunate that the weather in Cork began to improve."

The parents of co-pilot Andrew Cantle (27), John and Ann, pleaded with authorities to implement 11 safety recommendations made by the AAIU, which published its own report into the tragedy earlier this year.

"We have had an inquest and we have had an investigation but, at the end of it, there hasn't really been any blame put on anybody other than the pilot and the co-pilot though he (Andrew) was exonerated today," he said.

"The points that were made (at the inquest and by the AAIU) were excellent. The fact that he (Andrew) was allowed not to have enough sleep, the fact that he was putting seats in the aircraft at 6am. . . it must have been very difficult for both him and Jordi.

"Jordi had only been a commander for five days and Andrew had only flown for the company for two weeks. He hadn't even got a wage."

The inquest heard passengers presumed was an airline but it was, in fact, merely a 'seat seller' with the crew provided by Flightline BCN and the aircraft owned by Air Lada, both in Spain. "They (Manx) were an airline whatever they may call themselves . . . particularly when you are at 36,000 feet in the air," said Mr Cantle. But consistently said the flight was operated that day by Flightline BCN.

Mrs Cantle fought back tears as she said they were deeply proud of their son who, as a lifeboat volunteer, had devoted his life to saving others.

James Healy-Pratt, solicitor for the majority of the 12 families involved, said European aviation authorities now had an 18-month deadline to act.

"The families firmly believe that it is essential for all 11 safety recommendations to be acted upon and that is something that was fully recognised by the coroner," he said.

Mr Healy-Pratt said the major concern was that there "may well be airlines still not being properly regulated and that may have some operational control over the aircraft – and that is simply unacceptable".

The inquest returned accidental death verdicts for Mr Cantle, Mr Sola Lopez, as well as Brendan McAleese (40), Pat Cullinan (46), Michael Evans (52) and Richard Noble (49).

Six people survived thanks to the fire brigade who extinguished a potentially catastrophic wreckage fire within seconds.

Survivors Heather Elliott and Laurence Wilson said they both felt "really lucky to be alive – and how much we appreciate the fire and rescue authorities for what they did that day."

Irish Independent

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