Rescue 116: search crews try to deploy submersible in bid to find airmen

Naval Service ready to use remotely operated vessel if ‘weather window’ opens this evening

Holland 1, a remotely operated vehicle belonging to the Marine Institute, is loaded on to the Granuaile in Galway and taken to Blacksod Bay, Co Mayo to be used in the ongoing search for the missing crew members of Rescue 116. Video: Joe O'Shaughnessy

 

As the search continues for three missing airmen off the north Mayo coast, the Irish Lights ship Granuaile has approached Blackrock lighthouse to check conditions for possible deployment of a remotely operated vehicle (ROV).

The Naval Service patrol ship LÉ Eithne assessed swell around the rock 13km west of Blacksod earlier today and found it to be unsafe for diving, according to Cmdr Brian Fitzgerald .

However, he said a weather front has passed and a short window might allow swell to start easing sufficiently for ROV deployment.

Weather will settle for a more extended period from Wednesday evening, according to current forecasts.

The rock with lighthouse 83m above sea level is the last known position of the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter a week ago and the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) has confirmed that its tailpiece clipped the rock. However it stresses it is too early to say what caused the crash. Investigators have returned to the rock via Air Corps helicopter this Tuesday afternoon.

Local fishermen are also out searching the Inishkea islands to the north of Blackrock

On Monday night, AAIU chief inspector Jurgen Whyte and investigator in charge Paul Farrell said that the investigation has “not yet definitively identified the initial point of impact”.

They also said that “at this early stage” it is “not possible to be definitive about the exact nature of damage to the recovered wreckage, or indeed the circumstances of the accident”.

Mr Whyte said the AAIU extended its sincere sympathies to the families and friends of the four crew of R116 – Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, who died in the crash, and her three missing colleagues, co-pilot Capt Mark Duffy and winch crew Paul Ormsby and Ciaran Smith.

Late last week, the AAIU team recovered “significant wreckage” close to the lighthouse on Blackrock – the last known location of the helicopter before it lost communication early on March 14th on an approach to refuel at Blacksod Bay on the Mullet peninsula during the early stages of support for a medical evacuation.

Flight recorder

The AAIU team ,had been flown to the island by Air Corps helicopter last Thursday – a day after a signal from the Sikorsky S-92’s black box flight recorder was picked up close to the island.

Marine Institute surveyors had worked with two local fishing skippers with experience of the north Mayo coastline and its strong tidal range.

Their half-deckers were equipped with hydrophone and picked up the faint signal some 60m from the island.

The “chirp”, which was still emitting a signal on Sunday, was in a depth of 40m on the southeast part of the rock, which is marked by significant Atlantic swell and sea surges.

Elusive fuselage

Debris is still being recovered, but the fuselage has still not been located, and it is hoped that the flight recorder is within the structure or close to it – and that the three missing airmen may also be located.

The AAIU said a “significant amount of wreckage” was being logged, and would be brought to Gormanston, Co Meath, for further investigation.

It said it was “anxious to recover and examine as much wreckage as possible, and in particular to recover the combined voice and flight data recorder – as in the black box.

It said it had an accredited representative from the US National Transportation Safety Board working with it, who had advised the US Federal Aviation Administration and the aircraft manufacturer, Sikorsky.

The AAIU said it had also received assistance, support and advice from the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch, two of whose inspectors attended Blacksod Bay.

The AAIU said the black box area would be the focus of further searches, and agencies are hoping bad weather will begin to moderate from this evening

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has visited Blacksod Bay where he was briefed on board the Naval Service patrol ship LÉ Eithne. He also met relatives of the missing airmen and paid tribute to rescue and search agencies and residents in the local community and local fishermen.