Belfast Telegraph

Co-pilot was flying Cork crash plane

Flight experience of crew at centre of investigation report

By Eimear Ni Bhraonain

The co-pilot was at the controls of the plane that crashed in heavy fog killing six people at Cork Airport last month.

An investigation has found that Andrew Cantle (27), who had only 17 hours' experience flying that type of plane, was in the pilot's seat when it crashed on a third landing attempt.

Mr Cantle was the designated flying pilot when the 19-year-old Fairchild Metroliner crashed on the runway on February 10.

The flight's captain, Spanish pilot Jordi Sola Lopez (31), did not take over the controls — even after two failed landing attempts in the fog by the co-pilot.

This is despite Mr Lopez's family stating that he was most familiar with the Metroliner — and had actually made two aborted landings in fog the day prior to the Cork crash before successfully landing the plane a third time.

But a new report shows that Mr Lopez instructed Mr Cantle to “go around” and overfly the runway just four seconds before the fatal crash.

Preliminary findings of the Department of Transport's Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) yesterday revealed that the flight experience of the two crew members was forming a crucial part of the probe.

Experts examining the cause of the crash have found no mechanical problems with the plane — or systems during the flight.

The AAIU report also stated that the crew were told weather conditions were clear enough to land at Kerry Airport in the minutes before the disaster.

Both Mr Lopez and Mr Cantle were killed in the crash.

Mr Lopez's decision to designate Mr Cantle as “flying pilot” was last night criticised by an ex-Royal Air Force pilot who is now a lawyer representing Mr Cantle's partner.

Jim Morris, a partner in Irwin Mitchell Aviation Law Practice, said the poor weather conditions coupled with the fact that there was no autopilot on the plane made the captain's decision “questionable”.

However, Mr Lopez's family last night insisted the Spaniard should

not be blamed for the tragedy. “The investigation is still going on and people should not leap to blame Jordi for what happened,” his mother Rosa Lopez said.

She added: “He loved flying the Metroliner; it was the plane he knew best, and it's unfair to describe him as inexperienced.

“The day before the accident Jordi did exactly the same thing. He made two aborted attempts to land in fog and the third one was a success.”

The AAIU report also highlights how the plane was flying at just 91ft from the ground when it aborted a second landing. Generally, pilots are not allowed to go below 200ft unless they have clear visibility of the runway.

Investigators believe a warning sound went off to indicate the plane had stalled. However, this has yet to be definitely established. If the plane did stall, it could have caused it to lose control.

Also the decision to touch down in Cork after two failed landings was “not prohibited by regulation”, the report stated.

Six people died in the Cork air crash — four had strong connections with Northern Ireland. The passengers killed were father-of-two Brendan McAleese, originally from Tannaghmore, Co Antrim, a cousin of Irish President Mary McAleese's husband; Pat Cullinan, a partner in the Belfast office of the accountancy firm KPMG, who was from Omagh, Co Tyrone; Michael Evans, who worked as deputy Harbour Commissioner in Belfast; and Richard Noble, a businessman based in Belfast. The Spanish pilot and his British co-pilot also died.

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