Eerie calm in airport as families arrive to hear news
A GIANT billboard promoting the recently introduced the Manx2.com link to Cork dominates a wall close to the information desk at George Best International Airport.
Emblazoned with the catchline 'Above and Beyond -- Belfast to Cork, 1-hour flight twice daily', it shows an image of a turbo-prop plane soaring into an azure sky.
Yesterday, at the airport on the northeastern fringes of Belfast city, departing and arriving passengers appeared oblivious to the unfolding tragedy at the other end of the island.
A group wearing kilts and fun hats laughed and joked as they headed for the departure area, en route to Dundee. Elsewhere, two little boys tugging trolleys shaped like buses ran to keep up with their mother.
Throughout the afternoon, businessmen with briefcases swished briskly through the transit lounge towards the check-in desks for flights departing with routine regularity to destinations including Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham and Luton.
An exception was Flight NM 7110, scheduled to depart for Cork at 16.10, but the check-in desk remained closed. All subsequent Manx2 flights to Cork were also cancelled until further notice, although a Manx2 flight for the Isle of Man departed on schedule mid-afternoon.
A large media presence and groups of police officers milling around the arrivals area lent an eerie undercurrent to the otherwise business-as-usual atmosphere.
Shortly after lunch, two anxious-looking women, arms linked tightly, were escorted by a PSNI officer towards a Family and Friends reception centre that was set up at the back of the terminal building.
It later emerged that the women, a mother and daughter, were relatives of one of the injured passengers. After receiving information and support at the centre, they returned home.
Family members of one of the deceased passengers had arrived earlier at the airport, where they were briefed before leaving for Cork.
When news of the crash reached the airport just before 10am, a well-rehearsed emergency procedure was set in train. PSNI officers set up a command control room.
A separate relatives and family centre staffed by counsellors from Belfast Health Trust Emergency Response Team was also opened. First Minister Peter Robinson stressed the Northern Authorities would do all they could logistically to ensure that every service was available to assist the families.