Sunday 21 January 2018

Inquests into six deaths in Cork air crash to begin today

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
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

CIVIL actions over the Cork air tragedy in which six people died and six were injured are to be fast-tracked once coroner inquests are concluded.

Inquests into the six deaths following the crash at Cork Airport in thick fog in February 2011 are scheduled to open later today.

The hearings will take two days to conclude and will include evidence from some of the six survivors.

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 tragedy.

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

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 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.

Legal representatives of English woman Beth Webster, the partner of co-pilot Andrew Cantle (27), confirmed that they are taking High Court action.

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 on February 10 2011.

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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