The jet emerged from the mist, upside down and totally destroyed. I just thought, 'Jesus Christ'
BRAVE fire-fighters today relived the appalling scene and told how they had to wade through three feet of mud to rescue passengers who were still strapped into their upside-down seats.
The emergency workers spoke of the eerie silence at the scene, and the fact that the captain and co-pilot were obviously dead in their seats in the cockpit, which made them think nobody had survived.
But their training for such emergencies then kicked in when colleagues from the airport fire service told them there were survivors.
"It was an incredible sight. As we got nearer the plane you could see it emerging out of the mist, upside down and totally destroyed, and you think 'Jesus Christ'," said fireman John Hosford.
"The plane had come off the runway and broken up in a kind of muddy swamp at the side. The whole plane was full of mud and we had to wade through it," he said.
Cork City Fire Brigade regularly train with their counterparts in the County Fire Brigade and the airport's own fire brigade to prepare for emergencies.
City Fire Brigade Third Officer Declan O'Shea, based at Anglesea Street, described how the emergency plan was implemented.
"We got a call from Munster Regional Control at around five minutes to ten, so at that stage we mobilised two pumping appliances, an emergency tender, a control unit, a hydraulic platform, and a water tanker," he said.
"Our colleagues in the County Fire Brigade would have mobilised their pre-determined appliances as well, backing up what was already at the airport," Declan added.
"When we arrived at the scene the airport fire service was already in operation, they had the fire extinguished and were gaining access to the fuselage.
"Our colleagues from the HSE ambulance service, as well as the gardai, were also at the scene," he added.
So fluid was the emergency response that all the different emergency crew members and doctors from each separate divison knew each other by name and exactly what their responsibilities were.
"This was a major factor in saving lives at the scene," said Professor Stephen Cusack, consultant in emergency medicine at Cork University Hospital (CUH).
"When I arrived I thought it would have been impossible for anyone to survive, but the airport fire service had the flames at the engine put out in less than four minutes, preventing the flames from spreading to the plane, and preventing further casualties," he added.
Third Officer Declan O'Shea and his colleagues were commanded with releasing passengers from the wreckage and bringing them to a first-aid station manned by Prof Cusack, and from there the injured were assessed and brought to CUH.
"There were two walking wounded when we arrived, being treated," said Declan.
"There were still people trapped in the plane, and we had the passenger list, so we could tell what numbers we were dealing with.
"From what I could see there was a relative calm at the scene, and I think that was indicative of the professionalism of all the crews," he explained.
He said that most of the injuries were physical impact injuries such as broken bones and concussion, a fact that was backed up by Prof Cusack, who said there were also abdominal and chest injuries consistent with the passengers having being thrown about while strapped into their seats.
Speaking of those who had been killed, fireman John Hosford said it was his belief that they would have died quickly from impact-related injuries.
"It's very tragic and I hope that they did not suffer," he told the Herald.