For 30 years, the RAF has been suspected of causing Ireland's worst air disaster. Until now...

An investigation into Ireland's worst civilian aircraft crash is expected next month to clear the British military of any involvement.

An investigation into Ireland's worst civilian aircraft crash is expected next month to clear the British military of any involvement.

The tragedy of Aer Lingus flight 712 in which 61 people died has haunted the authorities on both sides of the Irish sea for more than three decades. Since the Vickers Viscount 803 airliner, named the St Phelim, disappeared into the Irish Sea in 1968 there have been allegations that it was accidentally hit by a missile launched from an RAF missile base at Aberporth, near Cardigan, Dyfed, on the west coast of Wales.

Over the last 30 years the mystery has become the Irish equivalent of the Lockerbie tragedy fuelled by speculation and claims of conspiracies and cover-ups. Last year, the Irish government launched a fresh inquiry to discover the truth and next month it is expected to reveal it has found nothing that incriminates Britain's Ministry of Defence.

The report, largely based upon previously secret documents relating to the missile range that were supplied by the Ministry of Defence in London, is now expected to say that the Irish government officially accepts that the British military was not to blame.

Flight 712 left Cork for London Heathrow at 11.32am on 24 March 1968. Captained by Barney O'Beirne, a very experienced 35-year-old former Irish Air Force pilot, the St Phelim was carrying 57 passengers and four crew.

Most of the passengers were from Co Cork. There was also a delegation from the Irish Ministry of Agriculture going to an international conference, some Americans, Belgians and a group of Swiss tourists who were returning home after a fishing holiday.

Nearly half an hour into the flight, the Viscount was nine miles off Hook Head on the south coast of Ireland. The crew acknowledged a message from Shannon air-traffic control to change to the London Airways frequency.

Half a minute later, just before midday, the crew of another scheduled Aer Lingus flight heard 712's co-pilot give its call sign "Echo India Alpha Oscar Mike, with you". A few seconds after that came flight 712's last recorded words: "12,000 feet, descending, spinning rapidly".

The mystery remains as to why the aircraft, on "a fine sunny Sunday", flying on a straight and level course at 17,000ft, spiralled into the Irish Sea killing all on board. Forty seven bodies have never been recovered.

Eyewitnesses on the shore told the Irish Air Investigation Authority that they had seen explosions and objects in the sky that day. The authority tried to find the cause of the crash but its inconclusive verdict was to act as grist to the conspiracy theorist's mill for three decades.

Richard O'Sullivan, who was the Republic of Ireland's inspector of transport at the time, wrote: "The conclusion that there was another aircraft involved is inescapable... No aircraft have been reported missing but there remains the possibility that an unmanned aircraft, either a drone target aircraft or a missile, might have been there."

After a 30th anniversary memorial service was held in Cork last March, the families of the victims decided to form a committee to press for the truth. Captain O'Bierne's son Davy said: "As a group we thought we could bring more pressure banging on doors than we could as individuals."

After 30 years of blaming the British government, campaigners have been somewhat disarmed by its openness this time round. Last year, Dame Veronica Sutherland, then British ambassador to Dublin, made strenuous effort to obtain files and information for the families of the victims. She also met with Mary O'Rourke, the Irish Public Enterprise Minister who is in charge of inquiries into flight 712. All MoD documents were later handed over to the Irish investigators.

A senior Royal Air Force officer who was based at Aberporth in the late Sixties flatly rejected any claims that the base there was involved in the loss of the aircraft. He said: "The officer in charge at the time was a close personal friend. The range was closed on Sundays.

"I get angry at these allegations, as though there was any possibility of covering up such a thing. You could not possibly keep it quiet among the hundreds of people who worked there. What I do know is that this has been good propaganda for the IRA, as it roused anti-British feeling."

The new investigation has also been closely examining the possibility of a fault in the aircraft that disappeared. Of 50 Viscounts built, one in 10 were involved in fatal accidents.

Arts & Entertainment
The original design with Charles' face clearly visible, which is on display around the capital
arts + ents The ad shows Prince Charles attired for his coronation in a crown and fur mantle with his mouth covered by a criss-cross of white duct tape
Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
Voices
Sweet tweet: Victoria Beckham’s selfie, taken on her 40th birthday on Thursday
voices... and her career-long attack on the absurd criteria by which we define our 'betters', by Ellen E Jones
Sport
Mercedes Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain (front) drives ahead of Red Bull Formula One driver Daniel Ricciardo of Australia during the Chinese F1 Grand Prix at the Shanghai International circuit
sport Hamilton captured his third straight Formula One race with ease on Sunday, leading from start to finish to win the Chinese Grand Prix

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit