seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

The Crash of Aer Lingus Flight 712

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Aer Lingus Flight 712 crashes enroute from Cork to London on March 24, 1968 killing all 61 passengers and crew. The aircraft, a Vickers Viscount 803 named “St. Phelim,” crashes into the sea off Tuskar Rock, County Wexford. Although the investigation into the crash lasts two years, a cause is never determined. There has long been popular speculation that the aircraft was shot down by a British experimental missile. Aberporth in west Wales is at the time the most advanced British missile testing station.

The flight leaves Cork Airport at 10:32 AM for London. The flight proceeds normally until a call is heard with the probable contents “twelve thousand feet descending spinning rapidly.” There is no further communications with the aircraft and London ATC informs Shannon ATC that they have no radio contact with EI-AOM. London ATC requests Aer Lingus Flight EI 362, flying a Dublin to Bristol route, to search west of Strumble. This search at 500 feet in good visibility turns up nothing. At 11:25 AM a full alert is declared. By 12:36 PM there is a report of wreckage sighted at position 51°57′N, 06°10′W. Searching aircraft, however, find nothing and the report is cancelled. Aircraft and ships from the UK resume the search the following day and wreckage is sighted and bodies are recovered 6 nautical miles northeast of Tuskar Rock with more wreckage scattered an additional 6 nautical miles to the northwest.

Thirteen bodies are recovered over the next few days. Another body is recovered later. The main wreckage is located on the sea bed by trawling 1.72 nautical miles from Tuskar Rock at 39 fathoms.

In the years since the crash several witnesses have come forward with evidence to support the missile theory, including a crew member of the British ship HMS Penelope. He alleges that part of the wreckage was recovered by Penelope and removed to the UK.

An investigation report is produced in 1970, a review is undertaken between 1998 and 2000, and an independent study is commissioned in 2000.

However, in 2002 a review process conducted by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) discloses that Aer Lingus paperwork relating to a routine maintenance inspection carried out on the aircraft in December 1967 is found to be missing in 1968. Moreover, a large body of research is done by the investigators after the accident, regarding the maintenance operating plan used for EI-AOM and defects on the aircraft found during analysis of the maintenance records. This research is not referred to in the 1970 report. A new board of investigation is set up by the Irish Government and finds that the crash is the consequence of a chain of events starting with a failure to the left tail-plane caused by metal fatigue, corrosion, flutter, or a bird strike, with the most likely cause being a flutter-induced fatigue failure of the elevator trim tab operating mechanism.

In March 2007 retired RAF Squadron Leader Eric Evers, who is previously chief flying instructor with the British military in RAF Little Rissington, makes a claim that the accident is in fact caused by a mid-air collision between the Aer Lingus Vickers Viscount and a French-built  Fouga Magister military aircraft which is training with the Irish Air Corps. Evers maintains that both the French and Irish authorities colluded in a subsequent cover-up, and the Magister wreckage may still be on the seabed. Evers claims have been largely disputed.

Aer Lingus still uses this flight number for a daily flight from Cork to London’s Heathrow Airport, contrary to airline convention of discontinuing a flight number following a crash. The route is operated with an aircraft from the Airbus A320 family.

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