UCC graduate among survivors in horrific Cork plane crash

Brian Byrne

University College Cork graduate Dónal Walsh was one of six survivors of the plane crash in Cork airport last Thursday. Dónal was returning from a volunteer training programme in Belfast and walked away from the crash relatively unharmed. Six others died in the crash.

“I broke one of the windows to get out, but I just couldn’t do it,” Dónal recalled to national media later that evening as he recovered in Cork University Hospital. “I was in the back of the plane when the impact occurred. I had my seatbelt on and broke one of the windows to try to get out, but I couldn’t do it. I was trapped in my seat for fifteen minutes.”

John Walsh, Dónal’s father, said, “He was traumatised and covered in muck and so on but I just got a text and we don’t think he suffered any serious injuries. I don’t know if he was thrown from the aircraft or what but it did appear that the pilot was under pressure to land at the airport.”

Dónal, from St. John’s Hill in Waterford city, studied Irish History and Language at UCC from 2007 and graduated last year with the Mansion House Scholarship in Irish History. He was returning from Belfast after attending a three-day training course with IFES Ireland, a Christian youth group.

The organisation’s director, Adam Jones, said he received a text message from Dónal shortly after the incident, which read, “I am fine with very minor injuries, all things considered.”

Mother of three Heather Elliot was sitting near the wing of the plane and was injured when the plane crashed. Heather’s mother Roma Peare said, “Heather was one of the lucky ones. She had to have an operation today on her gall bladder and her ribs were hurt.”

But while six survived, six others died. Among the dead was Brendan McAleese, a cousin of President Mary McAleese’s husband, Martin. Brendan owned the Central Laundries business in Cookstown, Co. Tyrone and was married with a young family. Another of the deceased, Pat Cullinan, was a partner in leading accountancy firm KPMG in Belfast.

Taoiseach Brian Cowan spoke with two of the other survivors. He said, “They are in good spirits and they are obviously very grateful for the care they are receiving at the hospital.”

Dónal’s family are supporters of Fine Gael. Dónal and his father John count votes from Waterford city during election time.

President Mary McAleese expressed, “I am especially conscious of the pain being experienced tonight by all of the bereaved. Brendan’s family have lost a fine and loving husband, father, son, and brother and their awful grief is replicated in the lives of all those who lost their loved ones in today’s plane crash.”

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