New search for missing Rescue 116 air crew delayed until Monday

Aviation consultant calls on helicopter operators to confirm if data updated since crash

A renewed search, which was due to begin off Blackrock Island in Co Mayo this weekend for two airmen whose bodies have not been recovered following the crash by the Irish Coast Guard Rescue 116 helicopter, has been delayed until Monday.

Garda Supt Tony Healy of Belmullet said Garda divers and a Killybegs fishing vessel with bespoke gear had planned to undertake a trawl of the seabed on the west and northern perimeter of Blackrock island on Sunday, weather permitting.

Garda divers were due to arrive at the scene today to carry out surveys ahead of the search.

However, a garda spokesman confirmed on Saturday the search had been postponed due to bad weather.


Winch operator Paul Ormsby (53) and winchman Ciarán Smith (38), who were on board the aircraft with pilots Capt Dara Fitzpatrick and Capt Mark Duffy, have been missing since the fatal Sikorsky S-92 crash off the island in the early hours of March 14th last.

Irish Lights ship Granuaile is also due to return to north Mayo later this month, equipped with the Marine Institute’s remotely operated vehicle.

“This is something we always intended to do, and the families of the missing men have been kept fully informed,” Supt Healy said.

Small amounts of debris continue to be found, including a part of a stretcher from the helicopter.

A former Air Corps air traffic controller, Lieut Col Kevin Byrne, has called on the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) and the helicopter operators CHC Ireland to confirm if chart data for search and rescue has been fully updated since the crash.

Lieut Col Byrne, who lectures in Dublin City University, said he did not believe it would prejudice the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) inquiry if this could be confirmed, and it would reassure all concerned about the safety of search and rescue crews.

The accuracy of data in aeronautical charts and software versions of them was highlighted in the AAIU preliminary inquiry into the crash.

The Irish Airline Pilots’ Association says it has been raising “concerns” with successive transport ministers on the IAA’s effectiveness in fulfilling safety regulatory and “oversight” obligations.

In its preliminary report, the AAIU recommended CHC Ireland, as operator of the Irish Coast Guard service, should “review/re-evaluate” all route guides in its use.

It singled out “enhancing” information on obstacle heights and positions, terrain clearance, waypoint position in relation to obstacles, along with the database information provides for its enhanced ground proximity warning system (EGPWS).

Locator beacons

It also recommended a manufacturer review of the locator beacons on the air crew life-jackets, as the air crew beacons did not activate due to conflicting information on installation.

CHC Ireland told The Irish Times it had “progressed” the route guide evaluation, and “supported the manufacturer”, named in the report as RFD Beaufort Ltd, in “progressing” the second recommendation.

CHC Ireland said: “We remain closely engaged with the AAIU in providing updates on both these issues.”

The IAA said it “rejects issues raised by RTÉ’s Prime Time report” on Thursday concerning its activities.

The programme reported on a series of emails between Sligo-based Irish Coast Guard pilots and a senior CHC manager referring to Black Rock Island and/or other omissions in the EGPWS in 2013.

The EGPWS, which is not a primary navigational instrument, was the last fail-safe device. The co-ordinates for Blackrock island were not programmed into it. However, aviation sources have said its significance may be overplayed, as it is a relatively recent installation and is “like a reserve parachute, not the main parachute”.

‘Hard copy’

The IAA told the programme that Blackrock island off north Mayo, which the helicopter collided with, does not constitute an obstacle under International Civil Organisation Standards as its height was under 90 metres.

However, the IAA has said that Blackrock lighthouse was included in the visual aeronautical chart or “hard copy” at its full height of 282 feet.

“As this was a visual aeronautical chart, the highest point is the most relevant feature for flight navigation purposes,” it has said.

The Rescue 116 flight was approaching Blacksod lighthouse at night and in poor visibility, and was relying on instruments.

Under international aviation rules, it is “not normal to comment or speculate on an investigation until it is complete”, the IAA said. The Department of Transport has also declined to comment.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times