Feb 112011

Six people were killed when a small aircraft crashed on landing at Cork airport.

It’s appalling, but I still wonder why the major emergency plan was activated and why accident investigation teams from this country and the UK are being mobilised.  It was a crash, that’s all.

Crashes happen all the time.  People are killed every day, on the roads, by drowning, in farm accidents, in falls from cliffs, but it doesn’t make the front pages and it isn’t the lead item on the tv news.

We don’t get statements from county managers and ministers of government promising a thorough investigation.

Thirty years ago, there was a shocking fire in the Stardust night-club in North Dublin, in which 48 people lost their lives.  The consequences of that disaster reverberated through the country, resulting in a complete restructuring of the fire services, and a highly-contentious tribunal of investigation, the results of which were never accepted by the victims’ families.

But on a broader scale, I often wonder why we react like this to incidents in which people die en masse.  After all, tragic though the Stardust was, the same number of people die every year in ones and twos across the country when their homes catch fire.  Despite the massive new investment in fire prevention following the Stardust, people continued to die in the same numbers they always did.

And people continue to die on the roads.  Six people were killed in the plane crash, but can you remember the last time six people died on the roads?  I think it might have been the last hioliday weekend, but there were no statements by government ministers and no inquiries were set up, because the people were obliging enough not to die all at once.

I think that’s what our safety agencies are for: to prevent people dying in the same place at the same time.  They don’t save lives.  They just save our feelings because we don’t like to think about people dying together.

While I’m on the subject, why do the media continue to describe the Gardaí as rescue workers when the people who carry out rescues at plane crashes and other disasters are the firefighters and the ambulance crews.  The Guards just direct the traffic and order up the doughnuts.

It doesn’t stop them pronouncing on matters they know nothing about, however.  I was struck by a quote from Garda Superintendent Charlie Barry : There were a number of passengers of course trapped in the plane. From what I could see two actually walked out, miraculously, four were taken out by stretchers and they were conveyed to the CUH (Cork University Hospital).

From what Charlie could see, it was miraculous.  A quick dictionary search reveals the following:

Miracle — an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.

There you have it: a professional assessment of the incident.  God saved some of the people but didn’t care about the rest of them.

The Gardaí are highly influential in driving public policy on how we deal with accidents, and the perception exists, however mistaken, that they somehow possess expertise in managing incidents.  Of course, it’s quite untrue.  The Guards manage nothing, but with keen intellects like Superintendent Charlie Barry invoking divine intervention to explain what happened in a plane crash, is it any wonder there would be a lack of logic in the way we frame our policy on such mattters?

  8 Responses to “Cork Plane Crash and Other Spectacular Accidents”

Comments (8)


    First off it’s a tragic event and sad for all the families involved. Was at the airport roundabout a minute or two either side of when it happend – didn’t hear or see anything. And yep an accident like many others. But, there’s a difference. Whenever a corporate or state agency is the provider of a service (particularly travel related) and something goes wrong there’s a push to convince us everything is being done to prevent it happening again.

    Can’t have the populace stopping the cogs turning because of fear. The Garda (or any other police force) are there to ensure us everything is under control so we can rest assured. They are a ‘voice of authority’.

    It’s a mechanism used everywhere, the most recent for me was the opening advert when we went to the cinema last week. A broadcast by the EU informing the (captive) audience that the future of our food supply and the health of the environment was safely in their hands. Propaganda targetted at young receptive minds.

    Back to the Garda, it’s not about expertise, it’s about reassurance.


    Ah Bock, you’re innocent. This was a major emergency because the plane was undoubtedly insured. All the plans could then be kicked in, and all the aleck-a-doos turned out, so that a bill for their time can eventually be sent to the insurers. A major emergency is an event which causes serious injury, loss of life or property damage BEYOND THE NORMAL CAPACITY of the emergency services. Tragic as it was, this crash was well within the capacity of the airport fire service and the rescue services. If six people died in a car crash, it wouldn’t be an emergency – it was just the added excitement of this being a plane crash that got it a bit of promotion.
    A classic example of a major emergency that wasn’t correctly deemed to be such was the Newcastle West flood a while back. The town lost roads, fire services, water, sewerage, gardai, telephones, public lighting and more. People were rescued from drowning by a lad driving a digger. Dozens of buildings were catastrophically flooded, and about ten cars were washed away. Farm animals even were in danger of being drowned in the fields. Nevertheless, the pwers that be and particularly the idiots in charge of the County Council didn’t deem it to be a major emergency because the bean counters had no outside agency to hit for a hill of beans.
    It’s not generally known that the public accounts committee enquired into that clusterfuck.



    I don’t think that Charlie called it miraculous in the strict, dictionary sense. He probably just meant that it was highly improbable, and very surprising and unexpected. But you’re right, that people call things miracles much to often. Or maybe there are no miracles at all, if there’s nothing really supernatural to cause them.


    If there hadn’t been an emergency plan, or if it had gone haywire, imagine the fuss ?


    In this particular case, the major emergency plan was not required. It was not a major emergency. The incident was well within the capabilities of the airport firefighting and rescue staff, perhaps with some assistance from the fire service. I think the Nut has put the position correctly. The local authority used the accident as a means of claiming funds from the plane’s insurers.


    It’s difficult to cut trough all of the media hype. It’s almost a given that an air transport crash becomes globally “newsworthy” regardless of the loss of life. By way of contrast, had 6 of 12 people onboard a minibus en route to Cork airport died in a crash on the motorway, it probably wouldn’t rate higher than 3rd place on the 6 o’clock news.

    Having said that, I don’t think you’re being entirely fair in your criticism of the response by the authorities.

    Emergency plan

    Every public aerodrome in this country is licenced by the Irish Aviation Authority (the IAA). Firefighting and rescue requirements are determined by the size of aircraft that the aerodrome is licenced to accomodate. The minimum requirements are laid out in Aerodrome Licencing Memorandum ALM002 currently in force.

    (228 pages, 4.3Mb, chapter6, commences on page 197)

    The plan shall co-ordinate the response or participation of all existing agencies which, in the opinion of the Authority could be of assistance in responding to an emergency.
    Examples of agencies are:

    – on the aerodrome: air traffic control units, rescue and fire fighting services, aerodrome administration, medical and ambulance services, aircraft operators, security services and police;
    – off the aerodrome: fire departments, garda, health authorities (including medical, ambulance, hospital and public health services), military, and harbour patrol or coastguard.

    For an airport the size of Cork, the requirements would demand a very comprehensive and detailed emergency plan. The scope would even encompass plans for the use of large nearby buildings (a gymnasium or an aircraft hangar, for example) as temporary mortuaries in the event of a large loss of life.

    In the tower at Cork airport there will be a large red button within easy reach of the duty controllers. Punching that button will activate the crash alarms, and the on-site firefighting and rescue resources will be deployed immediately. Escalation to the full emergency plan follows by default, unless the accident/incident appears to be minor in nature. Better to be able to “stand down” the external resources if they prove to be unnecessary than to have a delay in response that leads to further loss of life, don’t you agree?

    There isn’t a “lite” version of the “big red button”, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask a controller to make that call even if there were.

    International enquiry

    Ireland is a signatory to the Convention on International Civil Aviation (commonly referred to as the “Chicago Convention”). Annex 13 of this convention requires that signatory states provide an investigation protocol for aircraft accidents and incidents. In this country, the requirements are met by the Irish Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU). Their remit is to investigate accidents in accordance with Annex 13, the EU directives, and our own national legislation.

    That the enquiry into the Cork crash is international in scope is not at all unusual. The country of manufacture and certification of the aircraft (the USA), the state of registration of the aircraft (Spain), the issuing authorities of the flight crew licences (Spain and UK) would be involved, at a minimum. Should the investigation take a turn where, for example, ancillary equipment on the aircraft or on the ground may appear to be a factor, the aviation authorities in those countries of manufacture would join the investigation, and so on.

    Thankfully, aviation accidents leading to loss of life are extremely rare. To get an idea of the type of report produced by an AAIU investigation into such an accident, read this:


    For a more mundane investigation report (of a reportable incident, rather than an accident), read this:


    It’s important to note that such reports are used in the industry to enhance awareness and improve air safety. Quite often these reports support formal safety recommendations – these are usually adopted, and each one makes air travel safer for every one of us.


    whatever about the decision to enact the emergency plan, the mainstream media, particularly RTÉ , went way overboard in their coverage of the accident. One could be forgiven for thinking that it was Ireland’s very own 9-11.


    I know I’m a bit late commenting on this, but anyway! I have some knowledge of these plans and it seems that there is a “Kevin” in every organisation that wants to turn relatively minor incidents into “Major Emergencies” just for the pleasure of hitting the button. Thank goodness none of these knuckle heads will ever have control of a nuclear button.

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