Next month marks the fiftieth of the most serious loss of life in an airliner crash in the Irish Sea when the Aer Lingus Viscount Airliner EI712 ‘St Phelim’ plunged into the sea in a still inexplicable tragedy off the Wexford coast. All sixty one people on board – two pilots, two air hostesses and 57 passengers died.
It must have been an horrendous experience for those on board as it took over ten minutes for the aircraft to fall from its cruising altitude and all the time there was no communication from the aircraft.
Suspicions of UK military involvement in the tragedy abounded from the start and indeed were compounded by the fact the original Irish government enquiry held immediately after the crash specifically did not rule it out. Contenders were the Aberporth Missile Range in Wales operated by DERA and ship launched missile testing by the Royal Navy plus a plethora of derivatives of those suggestions. There was of course also the possibility of a mechanical malfunction.
Celtic League as part of our military monitoring which started in 1980 took an interest in the crash and called for a new enquiry. Some time later a relatives group added their voice and eventually a new enquiry was held this ruled out the military options and suggested mechanical failure. Some of the relatives were content with this some still quest for a final answer.
One of the latter was Jerome McCormick from Cobh in Cork whose brother died on ‘St Phelim’ and whose body was never recovered. Celtic League closed our file after the final Irish government enquiry as we felt with the passage of time plus the missing records some questions would never be adequately answered.
However Jerome McCormick continues his quest for the truth about the crash and in June of last year paid a whistle-stop visit to the Island to thank me personally and the Celtic League for the work we had done over the years. He said it was a visit he had wanted to make for sometime.
When Jerome was Interviewed by James Davis at Manx Radio (the first media source to acknowledge the impending anniversary) he told the story from a perspective that we when campaigning and indeed other media had never properly addressed. He outlined the raw anguish of a family that loses a loved one and is left without answers.
My experience of the ‘St Phelim’ tragedy was that it did not throw up any villains although it left serious questions that remain unanswered to this day.
The Ministry of Defence Civil Servants and DERA Range staff I dealt with over the years all tried to be helpful and although many records were lost they uncovered material hitherto not seen. However records and crucially a UK DOT report had been destroyed and military logbooks were missing. The UK government was professional in its response as was the Irish government and the Transport Minister who commissioned the final enquiry.
Although there were no villains some like Jerome still seek answers to what happened to his brother and the others who died mysteriously on March 24th 1968.
Our substantial file on the crash including all correspondence is lodged with the Manx Museum Library – it is open access.
Original report 1970:
pp Celtic League