By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Relatives of victims of Ireland’s worst air disaster will continue their campaign for a new inquiry into the 1968 Tuskar Rock crash despite reports that a review of surviving documentation by air accident investigators has failed to uncover "significant new evidence."
The reason the Aer Lingus plane St. Phelim crashed into the sea off Wexford on March 24, on a flight from Cork to London, has never been explained.
The plane was carrying 61 passengers and crew but only 14 bodies were recovered.
Following discussions between Enterprise Minister Mary O’Rourke and then British Transport Minister Glenda Jackson last year, it was agreed to reopen all the files but many were found to be missing or to have been destroyed over the passage of time.
Various theories have been put forward about what might have caused the Vickers Viscount to plunge 17,000 feet — ranging from a collision with a stray British missile or drogue target plane to metal fatigue.
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The review is understood to have discovered some new material but no major new evidence that would justify a fresh investigation.
However, sources close to the Minister O’Rourke say that she "does not regard the review as the end of the matter."
Details of the findings of the review — which was set up after years of pressure from relatives — are expected to be made public in a matter of days.
"I never expected the review would uncover anything new," , said Jerome McCormick, of Cobh, Co. Cork, whose brother Neill died in the crash. "The relatives have always believed that the only way we will ever learn the truth is from a completely new inquiry.
"If people did something wrong they would obviously not be doing a lot of writing about it and making sure the information was kept secret.
"We believe that what is needed is that people still alive from the time should be given an assurance of legal immunity and this will allow them to come forward and tell what they know. We need to speak to people who were there on the day and those subsequently involved in the recovery operation."
McCormick said there were parallels with the relatives’ search for the truth and campaigns by the relatives of the victims of the Dublin/Monaghan bombings and the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry.
"We are just one of a number of groups looking for answers and our search will continue," he said. "I have never made allegations against anybody but I have consistently said that the whole thing is very suspicious and this has been increased by the official silence. You ask any relative and all of them believe there has been a cover-up.
"We are not looking for compensation or anything like that. We just want an explanation of what occurred that day and what subsequently happened to the bodies of our loved ones.
"It is extraordinary to have an air crash of this magnitude and still have no cause for it."
McCormick said that only 14 bodies were brought ashore, 13 of which were identified.
"The relatives have only recently discovered that there is at least one unidentified body and perhaps other body parts buried in a Wexford cemetery," he said. "I was absolutely stunned to discover it was a triple grave. We had never been informed about this.
"After I got support from the relatives, I now have an exhumation order and I plan to have whatever surviving remains there are exhumed and examined. DNA tracing was not available in 1968, but we now may be able to check who was buried there."