‘Phenomenal’ search for airmen brings 180 divers to crash site

Club divers join Naval Service and Garda water units at Blackrock island, off the Mayo coast

Divers are searching the western perimeter of Blackrock island for missing Irish Coast Guard airmen Paul Ormsby and Ciaran Smith. Photograph: Keith Heneghan

Divers are searching the western perimeter of Blackrock island for missing Irish Coast Guard airmen Paul Ormsby and Ciaran Smith. Photograph: Keith Heneghan


Almost 180 divers are continuing a sub-sea survey of Blackrock island for two missing Irish Coast Guard airmen Paul Ormsby and Ciaran Smith off the north Mayo coast.

Some 162 club divers trained in search and recovery are working in parallel with Naval Service and Garda water unit divers on the western perimeter of Blackrock island, 13 km west of north Mayo, where the Rescue 116 helicopter crashed last month.

A dune search by Civil Defence volunteers on the Davillaun and Inishkea islands also took place yesterday, while the Irish Coast Guard Sligo-based Rescue 118 helicopter conducted another aerial search for the two missing men, according to Supt Tony Healy of Belmullet garda.

Pilots Capt Dara Fitzpatrick and Capt Mark Duffy were the first two confirmed casualties, and the ordeal for the Ormsby and Smith families has continued for almost six weeks at this stage.

John Kearney of West Cork Underwater Search and Rescue, who is one of the co-ordinators with the Irish Underwater Council of the weekend diving, paid tribute to the “phenomenal effort”.

Up to 35 local fishing boats and small vessels have been offered as platforms, and local fishermen have been laying guide lines for the divers from early morning.

Mr Kearney said the divers were working in depths of up to 35 metres, focusing on rocks, crevices and gullies.

“The swells and currents around this island are well known, and to have weak tides and good weather is very rare – so these are once-a-year conditions,”he said.

An air and sea exclusion zone around Blackrock island, location of the crash of the Irish Coast Guard Rescue 116 helicopter, was lifted to facilitate the effort – believed to be the largest co-ordinated dive exercise of its type in the State’s history.

The dive exercise mirrors the large scale surface sweep of over 8,500sq km of sea by some 110 fishing vessels, along with RNLI lifeboats, Irish Coast Guard, Garda and Irish Underwater Council rigid inflatable boats, a fortnight ago, following an appeal by Ciaran Smith’s sister, Orla.

Late last week, a team of 10 Army mountaineers and several Garda scene of crime examiners completed a two-day “360-degree” survey of the sheer terrain at Blackrock, which is marked by a lighthouse.

The detailed combing of the rock on Thursday and Friday, and its sub-sea perimeter over this weekend, aims to establish if the two winch crew were thrown out of the rear of the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter when it struck the western end of the island in the early hours of March 14th.

John Gallagher, chairman of Comharchumann Forbartha Ionad Deirbhile said the local community centre in Eachléim expected to provide over 600 meals daily throughout the weekend.

The Roscommon Solstice Choir will lay a wreath and perform several tributes to the four air crew at Blacksod on Sunday afternoon, and will perform a concert on Sunday evening in Saint Brendan’s Church, Tiraun.

Marie Gillooly, one of the choir’s founders, said that the wreath laying on the pier was in remembrance of the four air crew, and would pay respects to their families.

“We hope to provide some comfort and solace to the families at this evening’s concert, and we aim to provide some hope and inspiration for the unsung heroes in the community who have been providing some much time and effort over the past six weeks,”she explained.

The choir, founded in 2013 for The Gathering, has raised over €150,000 for different charities, including the Acton Homeless Community in London.

Mr Gallagher said funds would be used primarily for a permanent memorial for the four air crew, while also meeting local costs related to the search.