“The Irish government seemed relieved when the ‘definitive’ 2002 report was produced they paid little attention to the fact that their Chief Inspector of Accidents report produced just months after the crash in 1968 and able to interview eye witnesses was traduced by the foreign ‘experts’ working almost thirty five years later when most material evidence was lost!”
The Irish government hoped the mystery of the crash of Aer Lingus Flight 712 with the loss of all 61 people on board had been resolved almost a decade and a half ago with the ‘expert inquiry’, the results of which were published in 2002.
Aer Lingus Vickers Viscount (Serial) EI-AOM was on a routine flight from Cork to London on Sunday March 24th 1968 when contact was lost. A subsequent search and rescue operation identified a crash site just of Tuskar Rock, Wexford but what caused the aircraft to fall from about 17000 feet into the sea was unclear. The communications loss was also a mystery and pointed towards a fatal event which suddenly overcame the aircraft.
It was not long before suspicion fell on the operations of the British missile-testing range at Aberporth and this suspicion was compounded when an initial enquiry concluded in the words of inquiry Inspector, R W O Sullivan, that:
“There is evidence which could be construed as indicative of the possible presence of another aircraft or airborne object in the vicinity which, by reason of collision, or by its proximity causing an evasive manoeuvre to be made, or by its wake turbulence, might have been the initiating cause of an upsetting manoeuvre resulting in the Viscount entering a spin or spiral dive.
There is no substantiating evidence of such a possibility, but it cannot be excluded for it is compatible with all of the presently available evidence.”
The British however denied involvement, pointing out that the Aberporth Range was not operational over that `weekend’
(Subsequently when it was found that the range was in use on the 23rd March they amended this to `Sunday’).
Concern about the fate of the passengers and crew of EI-AOM for all but the relatives waned and it was another two decades before renewed interest focused on irregularities surrounding the events. Military logs had been lost and records shredded by this time and to address these and other anomalies a new inquiry was established. This inquiry eventually and rather improbably concluded that mechanical failure and metal fatigue caused the crash.
However the mystery will not go away and in the intervening period all manner of reasons have been advanced, including the unlikely suggestion that the crash was caused by an Irish Air Corps trainer in the area (of a type the Air Corps say they did not have in service at the time).
The O’Sullivan report was subject to considerable criticism in the 2002 report. However, one thing that was difficult to find fault with was the evidence of witnesses.
Most intriguing of the witness evidence was that of four witnesses at Fethard on Sea.
These witnesses, Nos. 3, 3(a), 4 and 4(a), (in the inquiry report) `described seeing an aeroplane, going in a south-easterly direction with very red colour on part of the wings and tail “as if on fire” but no smoke was seen. The colour of the aeroplane was not green or white.’
What is intriguing about this is that these multiple witnesses are describing the type of red orange `Day-Glo’ markings used on a small number of British Royal Air Force or Royal Navy aircraft generally associated with weapons-testing programmes.
At this time Meteor and Canberra aircraft used by RAE Aberporth (flying from a satellite base at Llanbedr) had these markings. In fact one aircraft carrying such markings (Canberra SC9 – serial XH132) was very active at Llanbedr, operating over the range area in 1968. See distinctive markings on (bottom) pic at link below:
The SC9 was also joined that year by a similarly marked aircraft (Canberra PR9 – serial WE146) which was involved in preparatory work for a test programme at the time. (Indeed personnel from Shorts flew from Belfast to Aberporth on the Monday after the fatal crash – despite the tragedy and all the activity in the Irish Sea it was business as usual at Aberporth)
In addition, from Naval Air Stations such as Brawdy and Yeovilton, Fleet Requirements and Aircraft Direction Units (FRADU) were deployed over the Irish Sea using aircraft such as the Hunter T8 which carry these distintive markings.
Extensive missile-testing was going on in the area at the time. The Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) was testing a wide range of short and medium range weapons and the Navy also had development programmes in hand. The UK MOD however stick to their line that no missile testing took place on the day and that the ranges were inactive.
Of course we only have the word of the UK government and no one is in a position to confirm or contradict them. Well not quite! From the late 1950s, as the importance of Aberporth and its weapons testing programme grew, `trawlers’ appeared in the St Georges Channel between Wales and Ireland. These trawlers were festooned with electronic detection, surveillance antennae and radomes which gave away the fact that they were not there to catch fish but rather to listen and observe as the British missile testing unfolded.
The operation was quite sophisticated and as the cold war developed the Soviet AGIs (Auxiliary, General Intelligence) in the Pembroke Strait and St Georges Channel kept tabs not just on Aberporth but also on the US Navy SOSUS terminal at Brawdy and nuclear submarine traffic.
Indeed section 18.104.22.168 of the ‘Expert’ 2002 Inquiry records their presence
The “Cold War” was fully effective in 1968. Some Soviet air (long range surveillance aircraft) or naval (trawlers specially equipped) units were deployed on several occasions, in particular for the observation of the testing activities of the newly developed occidental weapon systems.
It is to be noted that, usually, these Soviet ships or aircraft remained in international zone, in order not to be intercepted.
However the UK Forces reported every day on those Soviet units which were carefully tracked.”
The Auxiliary, General Intelligence (AGIs) were (as well as being one of the worst kept secrets of the cold war) a major irritant to the UK. Sited in International waters there was little Britain could do about them.
However during the Cold War every action prompted a reaction and the, improbably named, Pembroke based Aircraft Night Safety Vessel Invermoriston (the missing logbooks from which provoked much interest at the time of enquiries to the MOD in the 1990s) was not there to ensure the safety of Irish sea fishermen from rogue missiles or rescue downed airmen but more likely to keep an eye on the Russians.
Indeed Royal Marines were deployed on the Invermoriston although it was ostensibly crewed by the `Port Auxiliary Service’ with a role associated with RNAS Brawdy .
Link to pic of `Aircraft Night Safety Vessel’ HMS Invermoriston below:
The Irish Sea missile range operations were meticulously watched and recorded by the Russians for forty years.
Even at the `fag-end’ of the Cold war these operations were considered so important that when the (UK) Territorial Waters Act 1987 was introduced the Russians had to find a way to circumvent it.
In May 1988, much to the irritation of the UK, the Irish and Russian governments signed an agreement to carry out a joint “underwater survey to assess the deep water species of fish around the Irish coast”. It was no surprise that two of the first Soviet visitors to Ireland (Dublin Port) as part of this agreement were two `Alpinist’ Class AGIs
Were there any unusual military activities in the Irish Sea on March 24th 1968? The definite answer is possibly lying gathering dust in the archives of the Russian military in Moscow.
Anyway the Irish government seemed relieved when the 2002 report was produced they paid little attention to the fact that their Chief Inspector of Accidents report produced just months after the crash and able to interview eye witnesses was traduced by the foreign ‘experts’ working almost thirty five years later when most material evidence was lost!
Image: SC9 was it the mystery aircraft seen over Fethard on Sea with the red markings perhaps?
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