Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness escaped death in a plane crash on Thursday, thanks to a last minute change of plan.
McGuinness, the North’s Deputy First Minister, had intended to be aboard a commuter flight from Belfast that crashed killing six people at Cork Airport.
Six other people were injured as the plane flipped onto its roof on its third attempt to land in thick fog.
Mr McGuinness was due to canvass for Sinn Fein in the Cork area ahead of the 26-County General Election later this month. He told the media it was as a “deeply shocking and saddening event” and said: “Our hearts are broken for those people who have lost loved ones in this incident.”
He explained: “This is a route I have travelled on a number of occasions in the past. In fact I am going to be in Munster tomorrow and earlier in the week I contemplated travelling on this flight but that changed due to our circumstances.
“I’m very conscious of the fact that this is a flight that is frequented by people from the business community, people that have family reasons to travel to Cork and indeed people who are involved in tourism.
“We want to send our condolences and very deepest sympathies at what is a very tragic and traumatic time.”
An investigation has been launched by the Irish Aviation Authority into the tragedy - the worst on record at an Irish airport.
It is understood heavy fog had shrouded the runway when the pilot twice attempted to land the aircraft, first approaching from the north and then approaching from the south.
The pilot then approached from the north again, attempting to land but appeared to have missed the runway, and the aircraft flipped over on its back, with the nose of the aircraft taking the brunt of the impact before a fire broke out in one of the engines.
The alarm was raised immediately after the control tower failed to raise the aircraft on radio, and firefighters from the airport raced to the scene and managed to extinguish the blaze in the engine within minutes before it could spread to the cabin area.
The aircraft came to land just off the R17 runway in front of the new Cork Airport terminal building, but the fog was so thick at the time that it was not visible to people in the terminal until fog began to clear.
All six deceased were pronounced dead at the scene, and the six injured were brought by ambulance to Cork University Hospital, where four were described as being in a serious condition, with a further two being described as comfortable.
It was the most serious air accident in Ireland since the Aer Lingus crash at Tuskar Rock in 1968, when 61 passengers and crew died.
Those killed were three British citizens, two Irish citizens and a Spaniard.
One of the victims was last night identified as Pat Cullinan, a partner in the financial consultancy firm KPMG. Another to die was Brendan McAleese, of County Tyrone, a cousin by marriage of Irish President Mary McAleese. He was married with a young family.
A third victim was Captain Michael Evans, Belfast’s Deputy Harbour Commissioner.
Of the six survivors, one was named as Donal Walsh, a volunteer for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Ireland, who miraculously survived with minor injuries.
The 19-year-old plane, a Metroliner SW4 commuter aircraft, was leased to Isle of Man-based airline Manx2.com.
Speaking at his party’s election manifesto launch, Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams expressed condolences to the families of those who lost their lives, as well as those injured.
“My first thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives in what was a truly shocking tragedy this morning,” he said.
“My thoughts are also with those who were injured and I want to wish them a speedy recovery.”
He also praise the emergency services for their speedy response to the disaster.
The North’s Transport Minister, Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy also expressed his sadness and said he had spoken to the Minister for Transport in the south, Pat Carey, to offered the support of his department.