It is now almost fifty years since Aer Lingus flight EI712 crashed on Sunday March 24th 1968 off the Wexford Coast.
The plane was just minutes into a routine flight from Cork to London when control was lost and after descending for over 10 minutes in a spiral path the aircraft crashed into the sea near Tuskar Rock. All 61 people on board died.
The initial report (by R W Sullivan Inspector of Accidents) was able to interview a number of eye witnesses and speculated on several possible causes for the accident and pointedly did not rule out a collision with another airborne object or missile. This last possible scenario was seized on much later because of the proximity of the Aberporth missile test range and its associated airfield at Llanbedr where unmanned aerial target aircraft were deployed.
The UK government steadfastly denied any involvement.
However as pressure built up fifteen years ago the Irish government set up what they hoped would be the definitive independent enquiry. Though undertaken over thirty years after the event the new enquiry traduced the airborne collision theory of Sullivan’s original report and based its results (as it saw it) firmly on structural or mechanical failure. To this end it predicated its conclusions on Aer Lingus maintenance data that was ‘discovered’.
However doubts still remain not least because of ambiguities to do with data about the crash (or more accurately the lack of it) in Ireland and the UK.
For example when the new enquiry was conveyed as indicated above it drew heavily on Aer Lingus records and yet only months before in 1999 the Irish Transport Minister Mary O’Rourke had expressed her amazement when her Department was informed that Aer Lingus had not produced a written report immediately after the accident in 1968 – yet years later evidence was apparently available.
Things were no better on the other side of the Irish Sea Glenda Jackson (Sec of State for Transport) confirmed in answer to a question from Plaid Cymru MP Dafydd Wigley:
“Ms Glenda Jackson [holding answer 17 March 1998]: The Air Accidents Investigation Branch file relating to this accident was reviewed by the Department of Transport in September 1994. It was not selected by the Public Record Office for permanent preservation in the National Archive and was destroyed at that time.”
It seems incredible that a file on one of the worst air disasters (pre-Lockerbie) to occur in the British Isles should not have been retained at the National Archive.
It is even more surprising that the record had been ‘completely lost’ as a few months later in answer to another query from Dafydd Wigley Glenda Jackson confirmed that:
“The investigation into the accident that occurred to the Aer Lingus Viscount aircraft on 24 March 1968 was conducted by Air Accident Investigation officials of the Irish Department of Transport and Power. The AAIB participated in the investigation. The Irish report was published in September 1970.”
Given Irish (AAIU) and UK (AAIB) investigators co-operated at the time of the crash it seems barely credible that a copy of the UK report was never shared with them. If as we believe it must have been then were copies in both the UK and Ireland shredded!
Also of relevance is the issue of the missing ships logs of several vessels which participated in the search and recovery operation immediately after the crash. Four vessels were involved in the operation and of these three of the logbooks had gone missing. Defence Secretary, John Reid told Kevin McNamara MP:
“Four MOD vessels were involved in the initial three day search for the Aer Lingus Viscount which crashed into the Irish Sea on 24 March 1968. Of these, my Department holds only the log book for HMS Penelope. Extensive searches have not revealed the whereabouts of those of the other three ships involved. I am placing a copy of the relevant pages of this log in the Library of the House.”
In addition the whereabouts of the Aberporth range safety vessel the ‘Hector Gull’ could not be confirmed on the day of the tragedy. With the Missile Range not operational it should have been easy to establish if the range safety vessel was in Port but this could not be done!
Finally there’s the mystery of the RAF flight from Belfast (Aldegrove) to Llanbedr (and return) 48 hours after the crash.
On the Monday after the crash the south-central Irish Sea was a frenzy of activity. A range of naval vessels (including those that lost their logbooks!) in the area plus a number of Irish naval service vessels and lifeboats were in the area. Search and Rescue aircraft (mainly RAF Shackleton Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft) combed the area. Aberporth was already ‘in the frame’ as a possible culprit but if we are to believe what the final enquiry concluded it was business as usual and officials from Shorts just ‘popped over’ to Llanbedr for a routine meeting.
The Celtic League believes that the report by R W Sullivan is by far the more credible of the range of reports (which still survive) compiled. It was undertaken immediately after the event and had the benefit of eye witness testimony.
The jury is still out on the crash of EI712!
All the reports including the original by R W Sullivan can be found at the foot of the pages at this link:
Various UK parliamentary questions about the crash can be accessed at this link:
Mary O’Rourke’s comment in the Dáil about the shredding of the UK AAIB report and also the lack of a written Aer Lingus enquiry report immediately after the accident can be found at this link:
Report in the Irish Independent – Irish Minister Hugh Byrne highlights the missing log books and the lack of definite information on the whereabouts of Aberporth range safety vessel:
Note: In relation to the final part of the Independent news story above:
“They had also been unable to find any definite information on the whereabouts of Aberport (sic) range safety vessel Hector Gull but Aberport had a record of her leaving the range the evening of Friday March 22 1968.”
This is not accurate the MOD eventually admitted to the Celtic League that the range did continue operations into the morning of the 23rd of March although for almost thirty years they had insisted the range was closed on both the 23rd and 24th of March.
A substantial Celtic League file on this issue including correspondence with Government agencies in the United Kingdom and Ireland is lodged with records we deposited at the Manx Museum Library – it is open access.
Image: Aer Lingus Viscount similar to the one which crashed
J B Moffatt (Mr)
Issued by: The Mannin Branch Celtic League
THE CELTIC LEAGUE
The Celtic League established in 1961 has branches in the six Celtic Countries including our own Mannin branch. It promotes cooperation between the countries and campaigns on a range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, military activity and socio-economic issues
The link for the main web pages is below: