A commuter plane crashed in heavy fog in Ireland Thursday, killing six people in the worst such accident for 40 years and one which narrowly missed involving Sinn Fein\'s Martin McGuinness.
Twelve people were on board the turboprop aircraft from Belfast to Cork in southern Ireland when it crashed as it made its third attempt to touch down at Cork airport, flipping on to its roof.
"I can confirm that we have six fatalities and six people are in hospital," Tom O\'Sullivan, a spokesman for Cork County Council, told AFP.
Brendan McAleese, a relative of Irish President Mary McAleese\'s husband Martin, was among the dead.
"I am especially conscious of the pain being experienced tonight by all of the bereaved as one of the deceased was Brendan McAleese, my husband Martinâ��s cousin," the president said.
"His 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 todayâ��s crash," she added.
Irish police said the dead were all men -- one was Spanish and the others were British, three of them from Northern Ireland. A spokesman added that four of the injured were in a serious condition.
McGuinness, deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, offered his condolences to the victims\' families and revealed that he had been due to take the fateful flight as he campaigned for his Sinn Fein party ahead of Irish elections on February 25, but changed his plans.
"This is a route I have travelled on a number of occasions," he told reporters in Belfast.
"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."
It was the first major air accident in Ireland since 1968 and provoked an outpouring of sympathy from politicians, churchmen and others on both sides of the border.
The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) said the Spanish-registered 19-seat Fairchild Metroliner SW4 aircraft, which was being operated by Manx2.com airlines, was carrying 10 passengers and two crew.
The crash left the white and blue aircraft lying upside down with its front end almost completely destroyed.
IAA chief executive Eamonn Brennan said that visibility was so bad that the control tower had been unable to see the aircraft when it crashed, explaining that the "wind was very light but the visibility was very poor".
The pilots had tried to land on two different runways without success but the plane crashed next to a taxiway while making a third attempt, the IAA said.
Jurgen Whyte, head of Ireland\'s air accident investigation unit, said officials were "aware the aircraft was making an approach... and as the aircraft was landing a loud bang was heard.
"The emergency services responded immediately to an aircraft that had inverted and had caught fire," he said.
Cork Airport was closed until 1600 GMT Friday and incoming flights operated by British Airways, Aer Lingus and Ryanair were diverted to Shannon airport.
Manx2 was founded in 2006 and operates flights linking Ireland, Britain and the Isle of Man, where it is based. It began the twice-daily flights from Belfast to Cork in September.
The airline said the plane was leased from the Spanish company Flightline BCN.
"We are working with all relevant authorities to establish what happened," it said. "We would like to express our sincere sympathies to the families of those who lost their lives in this tragic accident."
The last major air accident in Ireland was on March 24, 1968 when an Aer Lingus Viscount destined for London crashed into the sea off the southeast coast with the loss of all 61 people on board.
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