Medevac before Rescue 116 crash was for ‘minor injury’

Irish Coast Guard helicopter supporting transfer of fisherman with damaged thumb

Irish Naval ship and specialist boats near Blacksod lighthouse, Co Mayo, as the search continues for the missing Irish Coast Guard helicopter. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

Irish Naval ship and specialist boats near Blacksod lighthouse, Co Mayo, as the search continues for the missing Irish Coast Guard helicopter. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

 

The Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 which crashed while supporting a medical evacuation off the Mayo coast had been responding to a relatively minor injury, it has emerged.

The missing aircraft was one of two search-and-rescue helicopters despatched to carry out an emergency medical evacuation of an injured fisherman from a British-registered fishing vessel 241km off the west coast last Monday night.

The R116 was tasked with providing communications and back-up support for the Sligo-based R118 on the 482km round trip to the fishing vessel in the Atlantic.

R116 disappeared just after 12.45am on Tuesday morning as it prepared to land at Blacksod, Co Mayo, to refuel.

The Sligo-based R118 helicopter had been tasked at 9.40pm on Monday night, after the vessel’s skipper sought medical advice over a crewman’s hand injury.

The injury was not life-threatening, but the skipper followed correct procedures in issuing a “Pan Pan medico” communication, which allowed him to talk directly to a doctor at Cork University Hospital (CUH) via the Irish Coast Guard.

This procedure allows the medical team on duty to advise the Irish Coast Guard on the correct response, based on the information given by VHF radio.

“The tele-medical assessment” is akin to a “triage system” in hospital emergency departments.

Medical opinion

The fisherman had severed the top of his thumb and was in pain. Medical sources have said that if the digit had been severed completely, time would have been of the essence in reconnection and would have justified a helicopter evacuation.

However, in this case, the man had not lost his digit, and the fishing vessel could have been advised to proceed to shore, while dressing the wound to prevent infection and possible septicaemia, a medical source said.

The Sligo-based helicopter R118 is crewed with trained paramedics, who were able to treat the crewman en route to land.

When the Air Corps was not able to provide “top cover” or support for the long-range mission, a request was issued for a second helicopter.

The Dublin-based Sikorsky S-92 flown by Capt Dara Fitzpatrick and Capt Mark Duffy was deployed.

R118 was returning to land with the injured crewman when it was informed that communications had been lost with R116. The Dublin-based helicopter had been about to land for a routine refuel when communications were lost.

R118 undertook a search for missing colleagues before landing the crewman at Blacksod, where he was taken by ambulance to hospital, and then refuelling and resuming the search.

The fisherman was taken initially by road to Mayo General Hospital, and subsequently transferred to University Hospital Galway, where it is understood he had plastic surgery under a local anaesthetic.

CUH’s emergency department was unavailable on Sunday for comment.