Six people have been killed after a small commuter aircraft carrying 12 people crashed in the runway of Cork airport in thick fog this morning.
As the Manx2 flight from Belfast to Cork made its third attempt to land, it overturned and burst into flames on a grass verge
A full investigation of the crash will be carried out by Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) of the Department of Transport.
AAIU's Jurgen White told the Irish Examiner "We will be reviewing the air traffic control tapes, the radar tapes, the weather, the operation of the aircraft…So really it’s too early to give you any account, other than we are aware that the aircraft was making an approach to Runway 17 in Cork.
"As the aircraft was landing it was heard a loud bang, and the emergency services responded immediately to an aircraft that had inverted and had caught fire, approximately 1,000 feet down the road."
Weather conditions were described as treacherous at the time, with dense fog severely reducing visibility.
There were 10 passengers and two crew member on board the 18-seater Fairchild Metroliner, which was leased by Manx2.
Six people died in the crash, four were taken from the scene on stretchers while two of the injured were able to walk from the crash site.
Brendan McAleese is among the fatalities according to reports from Belfast City Airport where his wife arrived this afternoon.
The President's cousin runs a laundry business in Northern Ireland and was on his way to a meeting in southern Ireland when he joined the flight.
News broke about President McAleese's personal connection to the tragedy just hours after she had sent her sympathies on behalf of the entire Irish people to the victims' families.
The first survivor of the crash has been named as Donal Walsh, a recent graduate of the Waterford Institute of Technology.
A consultant at Cork University Hospital, Dr Gerry McCarthy told BreakingNews.ie "Four of the casualties would [have] injuries that I would call ‘serious’ and two of them have what appear to be soft tissue injuries, but will require admission for observational circumstances...The serious injuries are a mixture of chest injuries and fractured limbs.
"At present, there’s nobody that I would describe as 'critical', but they are serious injuries, there’s been punctured lungs and things, but they appear to be stable at present."
Eamonn Brennan, The Irish Aviation Authority chief executive said the plane left Belfast at 8.12am and was due to arrive in Cork at 9.10am. He said there was fog in the Cork area at the time and visibility was poor: “It wouldn’t have been anything more than normal circumstances for Cork,” he told RTÉ Radio.
However, a witness at Cork Airport said that weather conditions were so poor that the crash could not be seen from the terminal building. Passengers could not see the crash through the dense fog.
IrishWeatherOnline reported that visibility was only 300 meters at the time of the crash.
Superintendent Mick Finn told a news conference in Cork that airport fire staff has extinguished the fire within three minutes. He said that one of the engines caught fire but it did not spread to the cockpit.
The President of Ireland, Mary Mc Aleese has expressed her shock and sadness: "The President said her thoughts and prayers, and those of all the people of Ireland, are with the families of the deceased and the survivors at this very difficult time," a spokeswoman said.
The Northern Ireland First and Deputy First Ministers, Peter Robinson, and Martin McGuinness expressed their shock at the air accident and have extended their condolences and sympathies to the families involved.
Martin McGuinness described the crash as shocking and a deeply saddening event. He said "The loss of lives is awful and our hearts go out to the families of all those who have been bereaved and indeed the families of those people who have been injured."
He also admitted that he considered taking the Manx2 Airline service from Belfast to Cork this morning as he was due to campaign in the wider Cork area in support of Sinn Féin's General Election campaign.
McGuinness said "This is a route I have travelled on a number of occasions. In fact, I am going to be in Munster tomorrow and I had contemplated travelling on this flight, but that changed due to other circumstances.
“So I am very conscious of the fact that this is a flight that is frequented by people from the business community, people who have family reasons to travel to Cork and indeed people who are involved in tourism.
“Our hearts are broken for those people who have lost loved ones in this incident and we want to send our condolences and very deep sympathy on what is a very tragic and traumatic time for themselves.”
Manx2 is a “virtual” airline that sells flights which are operated by numerous carriers. Originally founded in the Isle of Man it carries 100,000 passengers a year.