Belfast Telegraph

Cork plane crash: Two passengers emerge from air disaster unscathed

By Daragh McSweeney and Adrian Rutherford

A man and a woman from Northern Ireland described as “walking miracles” emerged virtually unscathed from the smouldering wreckage of the aircraft that crashed at Cork Airport yesterday killing six people.

Heather Elliott (42) from Belfast and Donal Walsh (22) from Waterford cheated death as the turbo-prop aircraft crashed after landing in a thick blanket of fog early yesterday.

The tiny 19-seater Manx2 |Airlines plane was making its third attempt at landing at 9.51am when it slammed into the |runway, burst into flames and catapulted into the air.

Residents living nearby described hearing a loud explosion.

One told the Belfast Telegraph: “There was a loud bang. I thought at first it may have been a gas explosion or something.

“A few minutes later I heard sirens — I knew something bad had happened.”

Six people died — four from Northern Ireland — but six others, including Mrs Elliott and Mr Walsh, incredibly survived the 19-year-old plane disintegrating.

Two of the survivors are said to be in a critical condition.

Mrs Elliott somehow escaped unharmed despite the entire section of the aircraft in front of her being destroyed.

She was said to be shocked and relieved while her family hailed her survival as a “miracle”.

Minutes after his near-death experience, Mr Walsh sent a |text to his father John and friends saying: “I am fine with very minor injuries, all things considered, thank God.”

One of the victims was a cousin of President Mary McAleese's |husband Martin. Father-of-two Brendan McAleese was travelling to Cork on business.

Mrs McAleese said the nation's hearts “were surely broken” over the sheer scale of the tragedy.

The passengers killed in the crash were last night named.

They were Mr McAleese; 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, also from Belfast.

Andrew Cantle, the co-pilot from the UK, and the pilot, Jorge Lopez, from Spain, also died in |the disaster.

As well as Mrs Elliot and Mr Walsh, other survivors included Lawrence Wilson from Co Antrim and Belfast father-of-two Brendan Mallon, who works for tour |operator Falcon Holidays, |and Mark Dickens and Peter |Cowley who are thought to live in the Republic.

First Minister Peter Robinson said he was shocked by the |incident.

“This is a terrible tragedy and my thoughts are with the families of the bereaved,” he said.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he was a regular user of the route and had |considered taking the flight — but changed his plans at the |last minute.

“Our hearts are broken for those people who have lost loved-ones in this incident and we want to send our condolences and very deep sympathy on what is a very tragic and traumatic time for themselves,” he added.

The south’s general election campaign was temporarily stalled as rival politicians delayed events to pay respects to the victims.

Outgoing Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who visited the survivors in hospital yesterday, extended his sympathies to the victims’ families.

Leaving Cork University Hospital, Mr Cowen said he had spoken with two survivors, and said they were in “good spirits”.

He praised the emergency |services for extinguishing the blaze which engulfed the plane within four minutes, adding: “I think that had an impact on ensuring that people came out of the accident.”

An Irish Aviation Authority spokeswoman said the plane |had been trying to land in foggy conditions.

“This was its third attempt to land,” she confirmed.

The investigations — which include probes by the Irish, British and Spanish authorities — will now focus on weather conditions were a factor in the accident.

The flight voice recorder |has been recovered from the wreckage. The Air Accident Investigation Unit may have a preliminary report into the tragedy by as soon as next month.

The Civil Aviation Authority, the UK aviation regulator, last

night confirmed it had no jurisdiction to regulate the safety of Manx2’s planes.

A spokesman for the authority said that safety responsibility for flight NM7100 lay with Spanish authorities because the plane was leased to Manx2 by Barcelona-based company Flightline BCN.

“The CAA doesn’t have safety responsibilities for their aircraft because they are leased and registered in other countries.”

Belfast Telegraph

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