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'Oliver just couldn't shake the feeling that it was his fault' - heartbroken dad tells of forgotten victim of Belfast Cork air crash

Five years after a Manx 2 plane crashed in Cork, killing four passengers from Northern Ireland and both pilots, a heartbroken father breaks his silence to Stephanie Bell about the extraordinary twist of fate which he says led to his son becoming the seventh - and forgotten - victim of the accident.

Published 08/02/2016

Oliver Lee
Oliver Lee
The wreckage of the aircraft at Cork airport
Oliver Lee with his late mother Louise, sister Harriet and father David

He wasn't on board the doomed Manx 2 plane which crashed in Cork killing six people five years ago this Wednesday but there is no doubt that the disaster cost pilot Oliver Lee his life too.

As the fifth anniversary of the crash approaches, Oliver's heartbroken dad David last night described his son as the tragedy's "seventh victim".

Oliver had flown the route for a year up until the week before the disaster when he left the airline to further his career with Jet2.

The 29-year-old was convinced if he had been in control on that fateful day in 2011 he would have negotiated the thick fog and landed Manx2 Flight 7100 safely.

The plane crashed on its third attempt to land in the fog.

Six of the 12 people on board died, including four passengers from Northern Ireland and the two pilots.

They included Brendan McAleese (39), from Kells; Pat Cullinan (45), from Cranagh in Tyrone; Belfast Deputy Harbour Master Michael Evans (51), from Belfast and Richard Nobles (48), from Jordanstown.

The pilots who lost their lives were First Officer Andrew Cantle (27) from England and co-pilot, Captain Jordi Gola Lopez (31) from Spain.

However, as Northern Ireland mourned its loss and investigations began, pilot Oliver Lee was tormenting himself over what might have been had he not left the company just days earlier.

Oliver, who his father described as "a very conscientious pilot", blamed himself for the crash and fell into a deep depression, taking his own life on Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011.

His dad revealed last night the terrible pain he and his daughter Harriet (26) still live with every day as a result of losing him.

Oliver's mum Louise was just 49 when she lost her battle with breast cancer on Christmas Eve, 2005.

It was on the anniversary of his mum's death in 2010, that Oliver was delighted to get the news that he had been offered a job to fly 737s for Jet2.

Last night his father David (59), who runs his own business, said he still hadn't accepted his son's loss and believed that it would have been easier to come to terms with it if Oliver had died in the plane crash.

Speaking from his home in England he said: "It is an awful experience, you never get over it. I still haven't come to terms with it and for the first two or three years I couldn't talk about it without breaking down.

"I wouldn't wish it on anybody. I think it would have been easier for me and his sister Harriet if Oliver (below) had died in that plane crash doing what he loved. I think we could have accepted that.

"Ten years ago I had the perfect life. I ran my own business, I had the perfect family and we had a comfortable lifestyle.

"My wife was diagnosed with cancer and she battled it for four years and when she died it was such a blow.

"Somehow when it is cancer there is an inevitability about it and when they go it is almost a relief although when it happens it still comes as a shock.

"But to lose Oliver was a completely different experience. I go from feeling sad to feeling anger over the fact that he didn't have to do it. To lose your child is even worse than losing your life partner. It is something that shouldn't happen; you shouldn't have to bury your child."

David's wife had worked in Leeds Bradford airport and while still at school Oliver worked in the airport and dreamed of becoming a pilot.

He said being a pilot was all his son had ever wanted to do, perhaps surprisingly considering he had been involved in a plane crash at Leeds Bradford Airport in 1985 when the TriStar plane he was on overran the runway.

"When he was six we had to drag him across the runway to get on another plane again," recalled David. "But after that he loved flying and that was all he ever wanted to do."

David said flying was in his blood.

He went on to university to study modern languages and it was only after his mother's death that his dad told him to follow his dream and train to be a pilot.

David funded his son's ambition and he trained for his pilot's licence in America and had flown some freight planes before getting his first job as a commercial airline pilot with Manx 2 a year before the crash.

It was his dream to fly 737s and he was over the moon to get a new job with Jet2. He had resigned from Manx 2 just a week before the Cork air tragedy.

David said: "I was at work when I got a call from Oliver telling me to switch on the TV to see the news. He was very cut up about it and felt responsible.

"He felt that if he hadn't left it wouldn't have happened as he knew the route and the weather anomalies and the quirks of the airport.

"It was at his cousin's wedding in February that I first noticed things just weren't right with him. He wasn't himself and he was very quiet and more reserved than usual.

"He seemed to just get worse and worse and eventually I sent him to counselling as I really felt he needed to get it off his chest. He couldn't shake the feeling that it was his fault."

It was on the day that Oliver was due to take his final jet flight simulator exam that David received a phone call from his distraught daughter telling him something had happened to Oliver and he needed to get home.

Although he knew his son was struggling to come to terms with the crash, David had no idea that he was suicidal. He said: "If I had known I would have locked him up to keep him safe."

As well as his own heartache, David says his daughter Harriet has also struggled with Oliver's loss.

He added: "She has been through the wringer the poor thing but is getting on with things too. Life will never be the same for either of us."

Six years after a Manx 2 plane crashed in Cork, killing four passengers from Northern Ireland and both pilots, a heartbroken father breaks his silence about the extraordinary twist of fate which he says led to his son becoming the seventh - and forgotten - victim of the accident

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