Passengers weren’t even aware there was an emergency on board the aircraft at the centre of a full-scale alert at Cork Airport yesterday.
They praised the flight crew for how they handled the crisis and said they only realised something was wrong when they saw fire engines and ambulances on standby at the airfield just seconds before they landed.
However, people who were waiting anxiously at the airport terminal for loved ones criticised the lack of information from airport management as the emergency unfolded.
Elderly rights campaigner, Paddy O’Brien, who was waiting for his son, Ronan, due to arrive on another flight around the same time, said some people were terrified when they saw the emergency services arriving.
“I feel the airport should have made announcements about which plane was involved in the emergency,” he said.
“This is my first experience ever of this kind, in an airport, and I wouldn’t want to experience it again. There were people here in a state of collapse, quite honestly.”
The captain of flight EI3701, an Aer Lingus Regional flight from Birmingham to Cork, operated by Stobart Air, with 59 passengers and four crew on board, declared an emergency yesterday about 25 minutes before the aircraft was due to land at Cork Airport at 10.10am.
It is understood that smoke was detected on the flight deck of the ATR 72 aircraft at around 9.40am.
Airport management triggered its full emergency plan and a fleet of ambulances and fire brigade units from the city and county rushed to the airfield to provide back-up to the airport’s own fire and rescue service.
However, the aircraft landed safely without incident at 10.06am, the passengers disembarked a short time afterwards, and the emergency response was stood down.
Gwen George, who was flying to Cork for a holiday with her children, Katie, 10, and William, six, said she noticed a burning-type smell in the aircraft during the flight but took no notice.
“To be honest, we didn’t realise anything was wrong until we landed and saw the fire brigades, because they were really calm on the flight,” she said.
“There was a funny smell on the plane, alright, but it was totally calm on board. It was a lovely smooth landing. The most stressed were the people waiting in the airport because some of them heard it was the Stansted flight.”
She said some passengers didn’t even realise there had been an emergency until they checked social media while collecting their baggage.
Airport spokesman Kevin Cullinane said the emergency plan worked well but accepted that people often hear about such incidents first through social media channels.
“We apologise if meeters and greeters were somewhat in the dark but our priority was for those on the aircraft,” he said.
Mr Cullinane said there will be a full review and debrief of how the response plan worked to ensure that lessons are learned.
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