INVESTIGATORS probing the Cork Airport tragedy will begin the painstaking task of reconstructing the shattered remains of the plane in a Co Meath hangar today.
They will also start piecing together information on its altitude, its speed and the angle it approached the runway and other data to prepare a computer simulation of the final minutes of flight NM7100.
The information from the flight data recorder (FDR), found at the airport within hours of the crash, has already been downloaded by the Department of Transport’s Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) at its Dublin headquarters.
The AAIU probe, led by air accident inspector Leo Murray, has already established that the tip of the Fairchild Metroliner’s right wing hit the runway as it landed in fog on Thursday morning. The plane then turned onto its roof and ran almost 200 metres along the runway before veering into a muddy verge where one of the engines caught on fire.
The remains of the aircraft which were gathered by investigators before the airport reopened on Friday evening have been taken to the AAIU’s examination facility at Gormanston, Co Meath. They left Cork Airport at 7.30am yesterday in a Garda-escorted convoy of three trucks.
“Obviously there has been extensive damage and part of the aircraft was burned. Over the next few weeks, we will start to lay out what has been recovered in the shape of the aircraft,” said AAIU chief inspector of air accidents Jurgen Whyte
Although the flight data is already available, he said its complex formatting means it could be months before investigators can analyse it sufficiently to compile a computerised re-enactment of the flight.
“[The recorder] records a variety of parameters and in very modern jets, you can find out every time a door opens or a light is switched on. But slightly older recorders don’t have as many parameters,” he explained.
“We’re still determining how many are available to us. But, at the very least, it will tell us things like the power the engines were producing, the altitude of the aircraft, its speed and angle,” said Mr Whyte.
The cockpit voice recorder was sent to an English air accident investigation team to be downloaded but the contents will remain confidential to the AAIU team. The recording could be key to the findings, as it will tell the investigators what was said between the flight crew, and between the crew and air traffic control (ATC) staff at Cork Airport, including whether pilot Jordi Lopez or co-pilot Andrew Cantle declared an emergency.
Mr Whyte said the AAIU expects to have records this week from Spanish company Flightline BCN, which operated the Belfast-Cork service for Manx2 airline. These should include information about the history of the aircraft including all the flights it has done and any maintenance and servicing it underwent, and about the crew.
All but one of the six survivors had been interviewed by the AAIU investigators up to yesterday, but evidence has also been gathered from ATC personnel and people who heard the plane on its approach to the airport. The poor visibility around Cork Airport due to the heavy fog means that only a small number of people are believed to have seen the crash landing.
Mr Whyte said the investigation will also include evidence from passengers on the plane the previous day and people who saw it before it left Belfast on Thursday morning.
The probe is being aided by AAIU counterparts from Spain and Britain, and because the aircraft was made in the US, officials from the US National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Authority have also arrived.
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