50 years on Tuskar crash still gut-wrenching for Cork families

50 years on Tuskar crash still gut-wrenching for Cork families

Wreckage from the Viscount is carefully for inspection.

THE Bishop of Cork and Ross will celebrate Mass in Ballyphehane tomorrow in honour the 61 people, many of them from Cork, who died in the Tuskar Rock air disaster in 1968.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the ill-fated Aer Lingus flight EI712 from Cork Airport to Heathrow Airport in London.

The flight left Cork just after 10.30am on a Sunday, and before 11am the crew sent out a radio message that they were at 17,000 feet. Just as they made the switch from Irish to London Air Traffic Control a garbled message was received, later interpreted as saying: “Twelve thousand feet, descending, spinning rapidly.”

An Aer Lingus Viscount aircraft, the same type as the one which crashed on March 24, 1968, killing all 61 passengers on board.	Picture: PA.
An Aer Lingus Viscount aircraft, the same type as the one which crashed on March 24, 1968, killing all 61 passengers on board. Picture: PA.

A nearby plane was diverted to search the area but could see nothing and a full alert was sounded at 11.25am. The plane, an 11-year-old Vickers Viscount, had entered the water 1.7 nautical miles from Tuskar Rock. It was the following day before debris was seen and over the next few days 14 bodies were recovered. The main wreckage of the aircraft was detected at a depth of 39 fathoms but the other 47 victims were never recovered.

There were also people from the US, the UK, Switzerland, Belgium and Sweden on board.

Half a century on, it is still not known what caused the crash. Father Michael Murphy, parish priest in Ballyphehane and Cork Airport chaplain, said it is still a sensitive subject in the area. Over the years a number of theories were put forward, including that it collided with something or was struck in midair, and two investigations produced differing reports. Both pilots on board were highly experienced, with thousands of flying hours between them.

“It horrifies to this day, people will still talk about it,” he said. “What is frightening is that no-one knows what happened. There is still a lot of interest in it and it is a sore subject.”

Father Eddie Hegarty, who was Ballyphehane parish priest at the time, and a group of his parishioners were among the dead.

Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, arriving in Cork to attend church ceremonies, is met by Cork Airport management.
Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, arriving in Cork to attend church ceremonies, is met by Cork Airport management.

“There was a gathering planned because there was a very active association with Ballyphehane people living in London at the time. Father Hegarty was going over to a social and others visiting relatives.”

In addition to the families he knows, Father Murphy has also heard from friends and neighbours of those on board and said anyone who wishes to pay their respects is welcome at the Church of the Assumption in Ballyphehane at noon tomorrow for the Mass.

At the 40th anniversary of the disaster, the idea was first put forward about a memorial stone. It has been a decade in the planning and the foundation stone of the memorial will also be blessed after Sunday’s mass. It is hoped that the memorial itself will be completed and unveiled in May.

Rosslare

Commemorations are also taking place in Rosslare today. There will be a wreath-laying ceremony at the crash site with a naval vessel, the RNLI, Irish Lights, Irish coastguard and other agencies present. A number of relatives will be taken to the site by the Navy for the ceremony. This will be followed by a Memorial Ceremony at Rosslare Harbour Memorial Park.

The public looks on as recovered wreckage is brought ashore.
The public looks on as recovered wreckage is brought ashore.

Seán Boyce of the Rosslare Maritime Museum and the organising committee said: “It is our hope to have as many of the relatives as possible in attendance. There will be a commemorative display which we are happy to open to the families.”

Wreckage recovered from the crash site.

Taoiseach Jack Lynch and Erskine Childers, Minister for Transport, arriving to attend church ceremonies after the Tuskar Rock crash.

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