A small commuter aircraft carrying 12 people crashed and flipped over Thursday while trying to land in heavy fog at Cork Airport in southwest Ireland, killing six people, police said.
Police Supt. Charlie Barry said four of the six survivors were hospitalized in serious condition, chiefly with broken ribs and limbs, while two others escaped with minor cuts and scrapes.
"Two actually walked out, miraculously," he said.
The Irish Aviation Authority responsible for running the airport said the fog was so thick that air traffic controllers in a nearby tower could not see the crash, only hear it.
The Irish Aviation Authority said the aircraft — a twin-engined turboprop leased to Isle of Man-based airline Manx2.com and operated by a Barcelona-based company called Flightline BCN — aborted two attempts to land before crashing on the third attempt.
It had been travelling from Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Authority chief executive Eamonn Brennan said the pilots had been trying to land using instruments. He said prevailing winds were weak and not a factor, while Cork frequently suffers from fog.
Brennan said the pilot first tried to land on the southern runway but pulled up, then immediately tried again on the northern runway but aborted that too. He said the pilot waited another 20 minutes, then tried the southern runway again — but landed either just short of the tarmac or in the grass to the right.
"The visibility was so bad that the tower was not in position to see the aircraft when it impacted," he said.
Landing attempt criticized by expert
Aviation expert David Learmount criticized the pilots' decision to attempt three landings in fog, describing the visibility as "just not good enough."
"It's not normal to try a third time to make a landing. After two goes, you normally try to go to your designated diversion airfield," said Learmount, operations and safety editor of Flight Global magazine.
Television footage of the crash scene showed that the aircraft's wings were shorn off and the entire front half of the fuselage was crushed. The wreckage came to rest upside down with the landing gear extended and intact. The tail was protruding upward, with comparatively little external damage evident to the rear seating area of the aircraft.
Barry said emergency firefighters doused a fire in one of the plane's engines within three minutes. He said those killed were predominantly in the front half of the aircraft.
Brennan said the aircraft was a Fairchild Metroliner, a 19-seat turboprop aircraft manufactured in San Antonio, Texas, in 1992. Barry said it was carrying 10 adult passengers, a pilot and co-pilot.
Cork Airport's runway has been closed and all incoming flights are being diverted to Shannon, the larger airport in southwestern Ireland.
Thursday's crash was the deadliest in Irish aviation since 1968, when an Aer Lingus flight from Cork to London crashed into the Irish Sea, killing all 61 on board.