Thursday, 24 March 2016

24‭ ‬March‭ ‬1968:‭ ‬The Aer Lingus plane,‭ ‬St Phelim,‭ ‬plunged into the Irish Sea off the Tuskar Rock on this day.‭ ‬Just after noon on a fine spring day‭ ‬the aircraft‭ ‬inexplicably plunged into the Irish Sea off the County Wexford coast from a height of‭ ‬17,000‭ ‬ft,‭ ‬killing all‭ ‬61‭ ‬passengers and crew on board.‭ ‬Flight‭ ‬712‭ ‬had taken off from Cork airport about‭ ‬30‭ ‬minutes beforehand and was due to land at Heathrow,‭ ‬London.‭ ‬The plane was a‭ ‬propeller driven‭ ‬Vickers Viscount‭ ‬803‭ ‬with no known structural defects that could explain the sudden loss of this aircraft.‭ ‬Of the‭ ‬61‭ ‬people on board but only‭ ‬14‭ ‬bodies were ever recovered.

Its penultimate,‭ ‬garbled message indicated another aircraft was in the area.‭ ‬In its last message,‭ ‬eight seconds later,‭ ‬co-pilot Paul Heffernan,‭ ‬aged‭ ‬22,‭ ‬said:‭ "‬12,000‭ ‬ft descending,‭ ‬spinning rapidly.‭"

Witnesses say Captain Barney O'Beirne,‭ ‬aged‭ ‬35,‭ ‬managed to level the four-engine plane about‭ ‬1,000‭ ‬ft above the water,‭ ‬and flew on for about‭ ‬15‭ ‬minutes before it crashed close to Tuskar Rock.‭ ‬There was no black box recorder on the aircraft,‭ ‬which had undergone a major inspection three weeks earlier.

The Guardian‭ ‬11‭ ‬January‭ ‬1999

Speculation over the years has centred around the possibility that the plane was shot down by a rogue British test missile fired from an RAF base in Wales.‭ ‬However no set of established facts has ever been able to show what actually caused the plane to crash with such a devastating loss of life.‭ ‬The‭ ‬St Phelim Disaster is the worst ever recorded in the history of Irish Aviation.

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