55 years have passed since all 61 passengers and crew members perished in the disaster of Aer Lingus aircraft 712, which occurred off the coast of County Wexford, close to Tuskar Rock.
The actual events of that day remain unknown, though. On Sunday, March 24, 1968, the flight took place, and an accident followed. The Vickers Viscount, also known as the “St. Phelim,” had registration number EI-AOM.
In brief, Aer Lingus flight number 712 was a standard trip from Cork Airport (ORK) to London Heathrow (LHR) that took place over the Irish Sea.
Fifty-two years ago, winters in Ireland were far harsher than they are today, with many snowfalls in the early months of 1968.
Let’s look at some of the stories about the 1968 Aer Lingus crash.
4 Detailed Aer Lingus Crash
1. Swans spend the winter in Ireland
Thousands of swans spent the winter in Ireland in 1968 before returning to their breeding areas in Russia and Iceland in the spring. Eventually, spring was coming in March, and the swans had to go.
This gave rise to the conjecture that Aer Lingus aircraft 712 had fallen into the sea following a bird strike. Swans may have been involved, according to the crash investigation report.
2. The aircraft was shot down
Although a bird hit is a possibility, there are many ideas as to what transpired, one of which is that a British missile shot down the aircraft.
The Royal Air Force’s (RAF) station at Aberporth was ideally located for the Viscount’s flight path. It was the main missile testing range in the United Kingdom at the time, and missiles were often fired at drones operating over the Irish Sea without human operators.
As soon as possible, the British Ministry of Defense declared that they had nothing to do with the jet accident and were not engaged.
Another hypothesis holds that the aircraft was shot down because the British cruiser HMS Penelope, which was in the region for drills, mistaken it for a target drone.
Although the Ministry of Defense asserts that no ships were in the area, they are unable to explain the disappearance of HMS Penelope’s logbook.
3. The Aer Lingus crash was unrelated to the weather
We can rule out the possibility that the weather had anything to do with it because the Viscount took off at 10:32 a.m. on a gorgeously sunny day.
Before the 22-year-old co-pilot Paul Heffernan was reportedly overheard stating the following, everything was going according to plan, according to the Irish Times.
The plane’s final known contact was received by London Air Traffic Control (ATC), which promptly notified their Shannon colleagues.
While flying from Dublin to Bristol, Aer Lingus Flight EI 362 was instructed to drop to 500 feet and look for the missing aircraft.
After a full warning was issued at 11:25 due to the inability to see anything, the wreckage was reportedly spotted a little more than an hour later.
Search planes saw the debris but were unable to discover anything, so they canceled the search until the next day.
4. The aircraft crashed close to Tuskar Rock
The bodies were eventually located six miles (11 kilometers) northeast of Tuskar Rock, along with the wreckage of the airplane.
This set of rocks, which means “large rock” in Old Norse, is more responsible than any other location in Ireland for shipwrecks.
The Irish government declared at the time that it was satisfied with the outcome of the search, but a subsequent study in 2000 pointed out that the state lacked the means to conduct a thorough search, stating:
“The lack of a financial commitment to indefinitely fund the search and salvage operation may have contributed to its limited success.”
55 years later, it’s difficult to believe that further work would be necessary to locate the crash’s cause and retrieve the corpses.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner newspaper in 2018, Celine O’Donoghue, a cousin of one of the victims, stated that there was no custom in the area for challenging the authorities.
“Not in 1968, Ireland. At that moment, we were still very much in the land of fairies and leprechauns. The existence of landline phones was a blessing. The computer hadn’t even booted up,” she said.
“Nobody had any means of knowing otherwise, so everything was conceivable back then. You are unable to converse in a language from 50 years ago in 2018.”
Eventually, after public pressure and media speculation that a missile may have shot the plane down, a new independent study was held in 2000.
The study found serious omissions in the aircraft maintenance records, leading to speculation that some kind of structural failure caused the plane to spin out of control. Joseph and Mary Gangelhoff, the only American victims of the crash, took to saying that they did not accept the initial investigation report.
They found it strange that the British military took charge of rescue and salvage operations and that there was no civilian body to provide an independent investigation.
A fault with the aircraft itself would have been indicated if a missile or drone had not struck the aircraft. A potentially discovered issue may have arisen had the aircraft received the necessary maintenance.
“The day I got a call from the Department [of Public Enterprise] in Dublin, and they told me that the service cards relating to the Viscount had disappeared on the day of the crash and that that fact was omitted from the original report, I knew then what the real story was,” Celine explained.
“It was an engineering error, obvious as day,” stated Celine. As a result, all of the chatter about it being shot down, about drones, about the British and the military, was unfounded, the greatest scapegoat they could have come up with at the moment, and it diverted attention from the true problem.”
The majority of the aircraft, including the tailplane, was never found again, which is another fascinating detail. The items that were found were ultimately disposed of without informing anyone who might have wished to go through them.”
1,573 people lost their lives in 139 Vickers Viscount crashes worldwide up until 1995. Aer Lingus sold its twelve Viscounts after Flight 712 crashed, trading them in for more modern Boeings.
5. Flight 712 is still operated by Aer Lingus
Aer Lingus surprisingly continues to fly Flight 712 from Cork to London Heathrow, in contrast to other airlines that stop operating after a disaster.
Climate change has meant that, in contrast to 1968, considerably fewer swans now winter that far south; therefore, it would not be acceptable for maintenance logbooks to disappear, as they did for flight 712 in 1968.