Helicopter involved in Mayo search operation checked for safety in January

Coast Guard has five Sikorsky S92 helicopters with a top speed of 185km/h

An Irish Coast Guard Sikorsky S92 helicopter at its launch at Weston Airport, Lucan, Co Dublin, in February 2014. File photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

An Irish Coast Guard Sikorsky S92 helicopter at its launch at Weston Airport, Lucan, Co Dublin, in February 2014. File photograph: Colin Keegan/Collins

 

The manufacturers of the helicopter involved in this morning’s search for four crew of the Irish Coast Guard ordered immediate safety checks on the aircraft at the start of the year.

Precautionary inspections were carried out on the five Sikorsky S92s in rotation in Ireland (including a spare aircraft) after the US maker issued an alert.

The move followed an incident involving the same make and model on a North Sea platform in December 2016.

It was landing on the West Franklin rig on December 28th when it left significant gouge marks on the deck.

Helicopters stationed at the Waterford and Shannon bases were checked first, followed by Dublin and Sligo.

Sikorsky issued a notice known as an alert service bulletin relating to the tail rotors. It called for visual checks on the helicopters before the next flight.

Gerard O’Flynn, operations manager with the Irish Coast Guard said in January the inspections of the tail rotor had not raised any issues.

“All operators were required to carry out pretty well immediate inspections. As of now all the helicopters are fully operational,” he said.

The manufacturing company said the alert applied to all of the 280 S92s around the world and insisted it was an “inspection action, not a fleet grounding”.

Speaking at a press conference this morning, Eugene Cloonan, director of the Irish Coast Guard said said the Sikorsky S92s, supplied by CHC Ireland have an “excellent safety record.”

‘Flying ambulance’

In January 2014, the last of the Coast Guard’s Sikorsky S92 helicopters - described as “a flying ambulance” - was launched.

The fleet has a top speed of 185 km/h, a range of 500km, and according to then minister for transport Leo Varadkar, is faster and safer, carries more casualties, and can fly at higher altitude and in much worse weather than its predecessor.

The S92 crews including State-registered paramedics can provide medical services on inter-hospital transfers, and on donor organ recipient transfers. Specialist medical teams can also be transported, while the aircraft’s rear access ramp can accommodate stretchers, hospital trolleys, incubators, equipment and personnel .

The helicopters can also assist can mountain rescue teams attending incidents anywhere in the country at very short notice. It is also available for train or bus crash or road traffic accidents requiring multi casualty evacuation.

Controversial contract

The 10-year, €500 million contract from 2012 to 2022 for the faster and safer Sikorsky S-92 helicopters has proved controversial.

Speaking in January, former Air Corps officer Commdt Seamus McCormack said the State could have saved substantially if the Air Corps had been asked to tender for at least part of the work.

The Irish Coast Guard has in turn sought to give greater return for the investment by undertaking air ambulance work for the Health Service Executive when the Air Corps is not available.

Additional reporting: PA