Belfast Telegraph

Grim list of failings that led to Cork air disaster

By Adrian Rutherford

A flight from Belfast which crashed at Cork Airport killing six people was "a low cost, low safety" operation, a solicitor for some of the victims has said.

The six – including four living in Northern Ireland – died when the Manx2 flight ploughed into the ground while trying to land in heavy fog.

Another six were injured in the crash in February 2011.

Yesterday, a highly critical report from the Republic's Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) identified a series of failings which contributed to the crash.

The report, published two weeks before the third anniversary of the disaster, found:

e The pilot continued to try to land the aircraft despite poor visibility which fell below acceptable standards;

e The two-man crew was tired and fatigued;

e There was inadequate command training and checking;

e Flight crew members were inappropriately paired;

e Oversight of the service by its Spanish operator and Spanish aviation chiefs was inadequate.

James Healy-Pratt, from aviation claimant law firm Stewarts Law LLP, who is representing passenger victims and six survivors, said: "This comprehensive report reveals a low cost, low safety airline operation.

"The pilots ran three red stop lights in poor weather, with tragic results. Lives were lost, and others seriously injured, in what was a preventable accident."

Flight NM7100 had taken off from Belfast City Airport at 8.12am on Thursday, February 10, 2011, en route to Cork Airport.

As it approached Cork, the pilots reported thick fog and poor visibility. They made two aborted attempts to land before, contrary to standard rules and practices, attempting a third landing on Runway 17.

The right wing of the aircraft clipped the runway, causing it to overturn and burst into flames.

Four of the six victims were living in Northern Ireland. They were Brendan McAleese (39), a businessman living in Co Antrim; Pat Cullinan (45), a partner in accountancy firm KPMG in Belfast; Captain Michael Evans (51), deputy harbour master in Belfast; and Richard Noble, a 49-year-old businessman originally from England but living in Northern Ireland.

The Spanish pilot, Jordi Sola Lopez (31), and his 27-year-old co-pilot, Andrew Cantle from Sunderland, were also killed.

The service was operated by Spanish operator Flightline BCN, the tickets for the flight were sold by Isle of Man-based Manx2 and the aircraft and flight crew were supplied by Air Lada of Seville.

The AAIU found both the captain and the co-pilot had insufficient rest prior to commencing duty on the day of the accident and were likely to have been suffering from tiredness and fatigue.

Captain Sola Lopez had been promoted four days prior to the crash. Mr Cantle had joined the airline just three weeks earlier.

The report said Mr Sola Lopez was inadequately trained in the command role and was ill-prepared for the situation he found himself in on the day of the accident. Mr Cantle's training was not completed.

It said their pairing together on the flight was "inappropriate".

The report criticised technical aspects of the landing, including a descent without adequate visual reference and an unco-ordinated operation of the flight and engine controls when a go-around was attempted.

Mr Cantle's family are taking legal action against Flightline BCN and Air Lada, which leased the plane and crew.

A number of other lawsuits are expected to be launched now the final report has been published including from relatives of passengers who died, the injured, and relatives of the flight crew.

Manx2 welcomed the report, saying: "Manx2 ceased trading in December 2012 but the former directors and employees of Manx2 continued to give the AAIB and the AAIU their fullest co-operation throughout the three years of the investigation to ensure that the full facts could be determined and any lessons learned to improve future air safety.

"Unfortunately, the report is clear that the prime causes of the accident were decisions made by the Flightline crew in adverse weather conditions, compounded by inappropriate crew rostering by the operator and a significant lack of oversight by the Spanish air safety authority."

Spanish operator Flightline BCN, which is based in Barcelona, could not be reached for comment.

'The pilot frantically tried to pull up, then the nose hit, and the aircraft split in two'

It was shortly after 8am on a cold February morning when Flight NM7100 hurtled down the runway of Belfast City Airport before lifting into the sky on a journey that would end in disaster.

Thick, dense fog which was enveloping Belfast was also swirling around Cork Airport, where the small, 19-seater aircraft was due to land some 70 minutes later.

It was a journey which half of the 12 passengers and crew on board never completed.

As the plane attempted its final, fatal landing at Cork, it missed Runway 17.

Slamming into the ground, it rolled over and burst into flames.

Six people, including both pilots, died. Miraculously, six others survived.

At the time it was reported the fog was so dense that travellers in the terminal waiting for flights to the UK neither heard the explosion nor saw the fireball afterwards. Only by early evening, in the short window between the fog lifting and darkness falling, could the full horror be glimpsed.

I was among the reporters on the scene and it was difficult to believe anyone had made it out of the wreckage alive. The aircraft's front suffered the worst damage, with the impact crushing it almost beyond recognition into a twisted, blackened mess.

Three people from Northern Ireland were among the six who survived. They included Brendan Mallon, who was travelling to Cork for a business conference, Lawrence Wilson from Larne and Heather Elliott, who had been living in Belfast.

Donal Walsh, who was returning home to Cork after a religious conference in Belfast, also escaped with minor injuries. The other survivors were Mark Dickens and Peter Cowley.

Their eyewitness accounts would provide a terrifying snapshot of the moments after the crash.

Seven months later, in an interview with this newspaper, Mr Wilson recalled how the plane split in half.

"As the pilot frantically tried to pull up, the plane banked to the right and the nose went crashing into the ground," he said. "The aircraft split in two leaving the people in the rear exposed to the surface of the ground."

Mr Wilson told of how thick clay surrounded his body after the impact while he waited for the emergency services to free him from the wreckage.

"I managed to push the thick clay away enough to create a hole for my mouth, but once I'd done that water came pouring in."

"I didn't even realise I was at the airport at this stage, and such was the extent of the clay around my body, I didn't even realise that I was upside down.

"I was fighting for my life."

Yesterday's air accident report included some details of interviews with the survivors.

One said: "I do remember looking out and the ground was just feet from below us and it was grass, it was definitely not tarmac.

"And the pilot then gave the plane thrust, to come up out of the cloud. And at that stage the cloud was right to the ground.

"The plane, immediately after the thrust, veered to the right and tilted, the right hand of the wing caught the ground first and after that it was just mayhem.

"I couldn't breathe because all the mud had come up into the fuselage. I do remember pushing the mud away and then being able to breathe."

Another passenger said: "We came through the cloud or fog. We were probably no more than about 30ft off the ground. We seemed to be coming in at a bit of an obtuse angle.

"I was looking out the window, I sensed that we pulled up and banked hard to the right. As we banked, the wing I was sitting next to, the tip of the wing hit."

My son would never take risks, says captain's father - by Gerard Couzens

The father of pilot Jordi Sola Lopez has spoken of his anguish after an official report said the Spaniard should not have attempted to land the doomed plane in heavy fog.

The AAIU concluded Mr Sola Lopez (31), and co-pilot Andrew Cantle (27), landed the aircraft "in conditions of poor visibility below those required" while they were tired and fatigued.

The report also said the Manx2 crew had received inadequate command training and had been paired "inappropriately".

Mr Sola Lopez was on one of his first flights as captain when the plane, from Belfast to Cork, crash landed on February 10, 2011.

The pilot's father Antonio Sola yesterday said he hoped people would not blame his son for the crash, which killed four passengers as well as Mr Sola Lopez and Mr Cantle.

Mr Sola said: "After the crash a pilot friend of Jordi's told us he should have been flying with more experienced colleagues, that he was not experienced enough to be in charge of the plane.

"Although he had many, many hours of flying experience, he was young for a captain. Maybe if he was with more experienced colleagues they would not have attempted to land the plane in those weather conditions.

"Most of Jordi's flying experience was in the Canary Islands, where the weather is very different to Ireland.

"Jordi would never knowingly have taken risks. He was extremely careful and thorough."

Speaking from his home in Manresa, 40 miles from Barcelona in north east Spain, Mr Lopez added: "Not a day goes by when my wife Rosa and I don't think about Jordi and what happened that day. Our hearts go out to the families of all the other people who died."

Jordi, an only son, had given up his job as a champion ballroom dancer five years earlier to train as a pilot. He flew commercial flights out of the Canaries and Africa before moving to Ireland with Air Lada.

Jordi had 1,800 hours of flight time on the Metroliner aircraft and had worked with Manx2 for 10 months.

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