Six dead as plane crashes in fog at Ireland airport

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A commuter plane crashed and burst into flames, killing six people and injuring another six Thursday, as it tried to land in heavy fog at Cork airport in Ireland, officials said.

The turboprop aircraft travelling from Belfast in Northern Ireland with 12 people on board flipped onto its roof as it made its third attempt to touch down at the airport in southern Ireland.

The crash was the first major air accident in Ireland since 1968 and provoked an outpouring on sympathy from politicians, churchmen and others on both sides of the border.

"I can confirm that we have six fatalities and six people are in hospital," Tom O'Sullivan, a spokesman for Cork County Council, told AFP. Irish police gave the same toll and said four of the injured were in a serious condition.

The white and blue aircraft operated by airlines was left lying upside down, with its front end almost completely destroyed, photographs taken by witnesses showed.

Dozens of rescue workers and emergency vehicles surrounded the plane.

The Irish Aviation Authority said the Spanish-registered 19-seat Fairchild Metroliner SW4 aircraft was carrying 10 passengers and two flight crew when it crashed. The nationality of the pilots was unclear.

Visibility was so bad that the control tower was unable to see the aircraft when it crashed, said the authority's chief executive, Eamonn Brennan.

He said the "wind was very light but the visibility was very poor".

The pilots had tried to land on two different runways without success but the plane crashed next to a taxiway while making a third attempt, the aviation authority said in a statement.

"There is a fire, and debris has been scattered onto the runway and over a wide area," the statement said.

Jurgen Whyte, head of Ireland's air accident investigation unit, said officials were "aware the aircraft was making an approach... and as the aircraft was landing a loud bang was heard.

"The emergency services responded immediately to an aircraft that had inverted and had caught fire," Whyte said.

Cork Airport said it was closed until further notice. Incoming flights operated by British Airways, Aer Lingus and Ryanair were diverted to Shannon airport.

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Cork, John Buckley, was in the area at the time and went directly to the airport to hold prayers with relatives who were waiting in the arrivals hall of the airport.

"The suddenness and scale of this loss of life is shocking," his office said in a statement.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen expressed "shock and sadness" while President Mary McAleese said her "thoughts and prayers" were with the families of the victims.

Transport Minister Pat Carey said a full investigation was under way "and may have a Spanish and United Kingdom involvement."

Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson said he was shocked by the "terrible tragedy". Some of the victims were believed to be from the British province.

Manx2 was founded in 2006 and operates flights linking Ireland, Britain and the Isle of Man, where it is based. It began the twice-daily flights from Belfast to Cork in September.

The airline said in a statement that the plane was leased from the Spanish company Flightline BCN.

"We are working with all relevant authorities to establish what happened," it said. "We would like to express our sincere sympathies to the families of those who lost their lives in this tragic accident."

The last major air accident in Ireland was in March 24, 1968 when an Aer Lingus Viscount destined for London crashed into the sea off the southeast of the country with the loss of all 61 people on board.

An experts' report in 2001 ruled out persistent rumours that a rogue British military missile could have caused the accident.

© 2011 AFP

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