- Associated Press - Thursday, February 10, 2011

DUBLIN (AP) — A small commuter plane carrying 12 people crashed and flipped on its back Thursday while trying to land in heavy fog at Cork Airport in southwest Ireland, killing six people, police said.

Police Superintendent Charlie Barry said four of the six survivors were hospitalized in serious condition, chiefly with broken ribs and limbs, while two others escaped with minor cuts and scrapes.

“Two actually walked out, miraculously,” he said.

The Irish Aviation Authority said the fog was so thick that air traffic controllers in a nearby tower could not see the crash, only hear it.

Thursday’s crash was the deadliest in Irish aviation since 1968, when an Aer Lingus flight from Cork to London crashed into the Irish Sea, killing all 61 on board.

The Irish Aviation Authority said the aircraft — a twin-engined turboprop leased to the Isle of Man-based airline Manx2.com and operated by a Barcelona-based company called Flightline BCN — aborted two attempts to land before crashing on the third attempt. It was en route from Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Authority chief executive Eamonn Brennan said the pilots had been trying to land using instruments. He said prevailing winds were weak and not a factor. Cork frequently suffers from fog.

Mr. Brennan said the pilot first tried to land on the southern runway but pulled up, then immediately tried again on the northern runway but aborted that, too. He said the pilot waited another 20 minutes, then tried the southern runway again — but landed either just short of the tarmac or in the grass to the right.

“The visibility was so bad that the tower was not in position to see the aircraft when it impacted,” he said.

Aviation expert David Learmount criticized the pilots’ decision to attempt three landings in fog, describing the visibility as “just not good enough.”

“It’s not normal to try a third time to make a landing. After two goes, you normally try to go to your designated diversion airfield,” said Mr. Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flight Global magazine.

Television footage of the crash scene showed that the aircraft’s wings were shorn off and the entire front half of the fuselage was crushed. The wreckage came to rest upside down with the landing gear extended and intact. The tail was protruding upward, with comparatively little external damage evident to the rear seating area of the aircraft.

Superintendent Barry said emergency firefighters doused a fire in one of the plane’s engines within three minutes. He said those killed were predominantly in the front half of the aircraft.

Mr. Brennan said the aircraft was a Fairchild Metroliner, a 19-seat turboprop aircraft manufactured in San Antonio, Texas, in 1992. Superintendent Barry said it was carrying 10 adult passengers, a pilot and co-pilot.

Cork Airport’s runway has been closed, and all incoming flights are being diverted to Shannon, the larger airport in southwestern Ireland.

Irish airline Aer Lingus said it has diverted 16 flights to Shannon and canceled four others. Ryanair said it has diverted five flights to Shannon and canceled two others.

Bishop of Cork John Buckley comforted relatives of the dead and injured who had been in the terminal at the time of the crash. Bishop Buckley said he “offered them the prayers of all Irish people at this sad time.”

Manx2.com was founded in 2006 and operates flights linking Ireland, Britain and the Isle of Man. It opened the Belfast-Cork route six months ago.

Manx2.com describes itself as a “virtual” airline that doesn’t own its own aircraft or provide its own crews, but instead leases aircraft from several aircraft-leasing specialists. On its website it describes the Flightline-leased Metroliner that crashed as fast, comfortable and offering a window seat to every passenger.

Fairchild ceased manufacturing the Metroliner in 2001. Fairchild, best known for manufacturing the A-10 Thunderbolt “Warthog” ground-attack aircraft for the U.S. Air Force, was taken over by M7 Aerospace in 2003.

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