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'I took my workmate's place on flight because he was scared of flying' SURVIVOR'S REVELATION OVER CORK CRASH.

Byline: MAURICE FITZMAURICE

A CORK air crash survivor yesterday revealed he only took the doomed flight after a work colleague pulled out because he was scared of flying.

Laurence Wilson almost died from suffocation when the Manx2 plane was torn in half and he ended up trapped face down in thick clay.

But he managed to claw the dirt from his face allowing him to breathe as emergency services rushed to pull survivors from the plane.

It crashed in thick fog in February killing six people including the two pilots.

Speaking about how he was never supposed to be on the flight, Mr Wilson said: "I was going to Cork on business.

"Stephen Brown, one of my colleagues, was actually the one that was supposed to go on the journey but he has a fear of flying so I said I'd go instead."

The flight from Belfast to Cork crashed during a third landing attempt and Mr Wilson, 60, told how it was just luck he survived.

The businessman, from Glenoe outside Larne, Co Antrim, added the fog seemed to become thicker as the plane went for a second attempt at landing.

He said: "The fog had become thicker and I couldn't see anything from my window.

"This time the pilots did a very dramatic swoop back up into the sky. Everybody went, 'whoa', and the engines were at full throttle."

After the failed second attempt at a landing Laurence said the passengers started to get nervous.

He added: "We started chatting among ourselves after that. Everyone knew there was a problem.

"The pilot came out and told us we were going to circle around for 20 minutes in the hope the fog would clear.

"I spoke to Heather [Elliot] for the whole time as she was nervous and I was trying to calm her down. But to be honest I was very nervous myself - not panicking, but not calm.

"Twenty minutes later we made our third and final attempt.

"The airport was still clouded in thick fog as we approached.

"Then, out of the fog, I saw grass and it was about eight foot beneath us.

"The flaps on the wings hadn't even gone up and we were just flying normally.

"As the pilot frantically tried to pull up, the plane banked to the right."nd the nose went crashing into the ground."

At this point the aircraft split in two and the people at the front bore the brunt of the impact.

The rear section hit the ground and Laurence said he found himself encased in mud.

He told the Belfast Telegraph: "I managed to push the thick clay away to create a hole for my mouth but once I'd done that water came pouring in.

"I didn't even realise I was at the airport at that stage and such was the extent of the clay around my body I didn't even realise I was upside down.

"I was fighting for my life.

W he n the a c c i de n t and emergency guys arrived one of them pushed all the mud away from my face.

"I think Heather was the first out. After I got the mud off I was holding her hand.

"She was in and out of consciousness and quite badly injured.

"The guy behind me, Donal Walsh, from Waterford, was screaming because he was drenched in aviation fluid and the wing beside him had caught fire."

Mr Wilson added following the crash it was hard to see the families of those who died bury their loved ones.

Co Tyrone businessman Brendan McAleese, a cousin of Mary McAleese's husband Martin, was killed in the tragedy.

Pat Cullinan, also from Tyrone, Belfast deputy harbour commissioner Michael Evans and Richard Noble, who lived in Co Antrim, also died.

Spanish pilot Jordi Lopez and English co-pilot Andrew Cantle lost their lives.

CAPTION(S):

DESTROYED Wreckage of Manx2 plane ESCAPE Laurence Wilson TRAGEDY The aircraft which crashed at Cork Airport in February
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 21, 2011
Words:666
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