A QUICK-thinking Aer Lingus Regional pilot and co-pilot saved her plane and 46 passengers by flying into a rain shower to clear sea salt that had completely caked their aircraft windscreen.
The revelation came as an Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) report praised "the good airmanship" of the crew of the ATR-72 flight from Manchester to Cork whose skill averted a potential accident at 10.50pm on January 2, 2014.
The AAIU described it as "a serious incident".
The build-up of sea salt on the windscreen, caused by stormy conditions during their flight over the Irish Sea, is one of the rarest challenges faced by pilots.
In the case of the seven-year-old ATR turbo-prop attempting to land at Cork Airport, the 40-year-old female pilot and her co-pilot were shocked to realise a thick layer of white sea salt had caked over their windscreen as they were attempting to land.
The condition of the windscreen was only apparent to the pilots, whose entire flight was conducted in darkness, when they had to abort their first attempted landing at Cork due to the stormy conditions.
"The aircraft then positioned under radar control for a second approach to the same runway," the AAIU report revealed.
"Its track brought it south of [Cork], close to the coast and at times over the sea. During this time, a thick layer of sea salt formed on the front windscreens, obscuring the flight crew's forward visibility.
"As it was not possible to acquire the necessary visual references for landing, a second go-around was flown."
But the quick-thinking pilot and co-pilot immediately flew into an area of heavy shower activity - and used the rain to wash the windscreen.
The pilot has over 5,000 hours' flying experience and, critically, over 4,700 hours have been logged on the ATR-72 type.
"A small portion of the commander's windscreen was cleared. A third approach was flown to a successful landing," the AAIU report added.
The AAIU investigation was unstinting in its praise of how the Aer Lingus Regional crew reacted.
The AAIU pointed out that it was "noteworthy" that the flights of two of the aircraft involved that night, both French-built ATR-72s, found that the windscreen wipers were ineffective in clearing off the salt.