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


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Death of Fighter Pilot “Paddy” Finucane

brendan-finucaneWing Commander Brendan Eamonn Fergus Finucane, World War II Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter pilot and flying ace known as Paddy Finucane amongst his colleagues, dies on July 15, 1942 when he is forced to ditch his aircraft in the English Channel. He is also noted for being the youngest person to ever become wing leader of a fighter wing.

Finucane, born on October 16, 1920 in Rathmines, Dublin, is credited with 28 aerial victories, five probably destroyed, six shared destroyed, one shared probable victory, and eight damaged. Included in his total are twenty-three Messerschmitt Bf 109s, four Focke-Wulf Fw 190s and one Messerschmitt Bf 110. Official records differ over the exact total. After the war, two of Finucane’s victories that had been credited as probables had, in fact, been destroyed, but are not officially included. His total victory count could be as high as 32.

On July 15, Finucane is killed at the age of 21 while leading the Hornchurch Wing in a fighter “Ramrod” operation targeting a German Army camp at Étaples, France. He takes off with his wing at 11:50 AM. The attack is timed to hit the Germans at lunchtime. Crossing the beach at Le Touquet, they target machine gun positions. His plane is hit in the radiator at 12:22 PM. His wingman, Alan Aikman, notifies him of the white plume of smoke and Finucane acknowledges it with a thumbs up. Standard regulations insist the wing carry on the mission even if the leader is in trouble. Radio silence is maintained so the enemy radio-interception services do not become aware that a person of importance has been hit.

Finucane flies slowly out to sea, talking calmly to Aikman as he glides along in his stricken fighter. Finally, some 8 miles off Le Touquet on the French coast, he breaks radio silence and sends his last message. Aikman, flying alongside Finucane, sees him pull back the canopy, and before taking off his helmet, say “This is it Butch.” It is a well–executed landing, but the waves are difficult to predict and the Spitfire‘s nose strikes the water and disappears in a wall of spray. Before he hits the water, witnesses Aikman and Keith Chisholm of 452 Squadron see him release, or perhaps tighten, his parachute release harness and straps. If Finucane did release them, it is possible he could have been thrown forward onto the gun-sight and killed, or knocked unconscious and drowned. The exact circumstances remain unknown.

Over 2,500 people attend his memorial at Westminster Cathedral. A rose is planted in the memorial garden in Baldonnel Aerodrome in Dublin, home of the Irish Air Corps. Finucane’s name is also inscribed on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede. The memorial commemorates airmen who were lost in World War II and who have no known grave. The Battle of Britain Monument on London‘s Victoria Embankment also includes his name as one of The Few. His flying logbook can be viewed in the Soldiers and Chief’s exhibition in the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barracks. The Finucane family donated Brendan Finucane’s uniform to the Royal Air Force Museum London.


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The Crash of Aer Lingus Flight 712

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.