A newly promoted captain took a plane’s power controls seconds before it crashed a year ago in thick fog at Cork Airport, accident investigators have revealed.
A recording from the cockpit during the third, fatal approach revealed Spanish commander Jordi Gola Lopez, 31, asked for the levers from co-pilot Andrew Cantle as he struggled to touch down.
The ill-fated Manx2.com flight from Belfast crashed on February 10, 2011 - killing six people, including the captain and co-pilot, and injuring six others.
Investigators have also identified problems with engine No 2 of the twin turboprop plane which could have caused an uneven thrust from either side of the plane.
Jim Morris, of Irwin Mitchell aviation law firm in London, representing Mr Cantle’s partner Beth Webster, said the one-year anniversary on Friday will be a very difficult time.
“Mr Cantle flew from Belfast to Cork that morning and tried to land twice in thick fog – he would have been exhausted at this stage,” former RAF pilot Mr Morris said.
“Between being newly qualified with little experience and rostered with a new captain, questions must be asked of the flight operators.
“Between the captain requiring the co-pilot to fly and the aircraft going below the desired height before aborting landing, it’s clear the captain had mismanaged the flight from a flight safety perspective.
“Andrew Cantle was put in an impossible situation.”
A lawsuit against FlightlineBCN, which was granted the Air Operator Certificate to run the service, and Airlada, which leased the plane and crew, is expected to be launched in Ireland this week.
Mr Morris said he had never experienced a set of circumstances similar to the lead-up to the Cork plane crash in 20 years flying with the RAF and as an aviation lawyer.
An interim summary on the crash from Ireland’s Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) has said the power levers were taken by the captain even though the co-pilot was flying the plane.
“The cockpit voice recorder recorded the commander stating that he would handle the power during the approach; this was acknowledged by the pilot flying,” the AAIU report said.
Data from the flight recorder, taken 106 hours before the accident, also shows a mismatch between the power delivered from either side of the ill-fated Fairchild Metro 3 plane.
The report does not make it clear if this discrepancy would have created an uneven thrust.
The AAIU said it did not find any pre-accident defects identified with the engines. But in the detailed technical summary to mark 12 months since the tragedy, investigators revealed that there was a control component issue on one of the engines.
It found the No 2 engine was giving out up to 5% more power than No 1. There were also issues with the pressure and temperature sensors on No 2 engine which helped to regulate fuel control
Elsewhere, the report said that Agencia Estatal de Seguridad Aerea (AESA), the Civil Aviation Authority of Spain, has banned Metro 3 aircraft from operating.
The service between Cork and Belfast has since ended.
Manx2.com said it would be inappropriate to comment further as the inquiry is ongoing.
“Our thoughts this week are with the families of those who lost their lives, those injured and everyone affected by the tragic crash,” a spokeswoman said.
“This is a very thorough investigation, and with a number of technical and regulatory aspects still being explored, the AAIU continues to have our fullest support and co-operation.”
English co-pilot Mr Cantle, 27, from Sunderland in England, who had been flying the plane, and pilot Mr Lopez, 31, from Spain, were among the victims.
The others who died were: Brendan McAleese, 39, a businessman in Co Tyrone; Pat Cullinan, 45, a partner in leading accountancy firm KPMG in Belfast; Captain Michael Evans, 51, deputy harbour master in Belfast; and Richard Noble, a 49-year-old businessman who was originally from Derbyshire but lived in Northern Ireland.
The AAIU said its investigation is ongoing and a final report will be issued in due course.