The study completed by a team of international experts into the crash of an Aer Lingus Viscount plane near Tuskar Rock in 1968 has concluded that the cause of the collision may have been as a result of structural failure of the aircraft, corrosion, metal fatigue, "flutter" or a bird strike.
The team, established by the Minister for Public Enterprise, Mary O' Rourke TD, rules out the possibility of the involvement of any other aircraft or missile.
And the experts, Yves Lemerercier, Manuel Pech and Colin Torkington, praise the efforts of the Aer Lingus crew in keeping the stricken aircraft flying for 30 minutes after the "initial triggering factor."
The Aer Lingus Viscount (EI-AOM) was on a scheduled flight between Cork and London Heathrow when it crashed into the sea near Tuskar Rock at 12.15pm (GMT) on Sunday, 24th March, 1968. All 57 passengers and four crew members died.
The report states: "A structural failure of the port tailplane is consistent with the evidence relating to the loss of EI-AOM&.An initial event, which cannot be clearly identified, is considered to be some form of distress affecting the horizontal tail of the aircraft. Possible causal factors are metal fatigue, corrosion, flutter (vibration in a control surface which may cause control difficulty and lead to structural failure) or a bird strike."
The report states: "The progressive failure of the structure of the port tailplane and elevator is consistent with the observations relating to the ultimate attitudes of the aircraft."
The experts say that the "initial event" and the progressive failure of the tailplane adversely affected the stability of the aircraft.
"The aircraft degradation process lasted for around 30 minutes and included the separation of an object, possibility the port elevator or part of it, east of Fethard (Co Wexford) and probably the separation of the port tailplane over the Barrells ( Co Wexford)."
The report goes on: "It is the International Team's opinion that it was a major achievement for the crew to be able to keep this aircraft flying for more than half an hour, with such poor manoeuvrability characteristics. This showed remarkable intrinsic and professional level of experience."
The experts rule out any aircraft or missile being involved. "We have carefully examined all aspects of the tests conducted in the UK ranges and of the sea and air activities performed on that Sunday. It is our opinion that all theories involving the presence of another aircraft can be rejected."
The study takes issue with the 1970 investigation into the accident and says that report was "deficient" in that "insufficient effort was made to thoroughly reconstruct the track of the aircraft and that pertinent material was excluded."
The experts do not contest the findings of the Departments 2000 Review of the files. The report states: "There is no evidence to suggest that any omission or error in the Inspection visit 2.04 of the previous 1967 December contributed in any way to the accident. But serious errors in Aer Lingus maintenance scheduling may be indicative of a less than ideal work culture existing in the airline at that time."
The International Experts stress that their study is not an air accident investigation but is based, in part, on a study of similar accidents involving Viscounts, a technical study of the Viscount fleet until the end of its life and an operational study assessing the various scenarios.
The experts say that having spoken with witnesses and examined witness statements, they conclude that the aircrafts flight track was not as outlined in the 1970 report. They conclude that about 50 independent witness' statements are consistent with one another and allows for a "complete (aircraft) track reconstruction and for a technically logical description of the degradation process of EI-AOM."
The Experts conclude that in their opinion the files in relation to the accident should now be closed.
Commenting on the study, Minister O' Rourke stated: "I very much welcome publication of this report. I am grateful to the three international experts for their time, diligence and expertise. The events they have studied occurred almost 34 years ago and I believe their conclusions require careful scrutiny.
"The loss of the Viscount was a human tragedy on a grand scale for a small country. I know from meeting the relatives that their pain has not gone away and our thoughts and prayers are with them. Both my Department officials and I have endeavoured to find answers to those terrible events in 1968. As this study indicates, we may never know conclusively what caused the crash and while the international experts recommend the file on EI-AOM now be closed, our air accident investigation unit will continue to monitor any new developments as they may arise."
The Independent Specialists are:
Admiral Yves Lemercier (ret): Consultant from French Cabinet dExpertise Aeronautique et Spatiale and his associate Manuel Pech
Colin Torkington: Australian nominee on Air Navigation Commission of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
The report is available from 4pm today (Thursday, 24th January, 2002) from the Air Accident section of this site