Rescue 116 crash: Guard of honour as Capt Mark Duffy’s body is brought ashore

Divers recover co-pilot’s remains from the wreckage of Irish Coast Guard helicopter

The body of Captain Mark Duffy has been recovered from the cockpit of the Rescue 116 Coast Guard helicopter located on the sea bed near Blackrock island, 13km west of the north Mayo coast. Video: Keith Heneghan

 

A guard of honour was formed by rescue agencies at Blacksod Pier in Co Mayo on Sunday afternoon, as the body of Irish Coast Guard helicopter pilot Capt Mark Duffy was brought ashore.

Earlier on Sunday, Naval Service divers had recovered the body of Capt Duffy from the wreckage of the Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116.

The helicopter crashed in the sea near Blackrock Island, 13km off the Mullet Peninsula, in the early hours of March 14th.

Capt Duffy was the co-pilot of the the Dublin-based Sikorsky S-92 aircraft, which had four crew on board at the time of the crash.

Rescuers had previously located his body in the aircraft cockpit at a depth of 40m in the sea, but subsea conditions had made it too difficult to free him.

The Irish Coast Guard Rescue 115 helicopter escorted the Naval Service ship the LÉ Samuel Beckett as it carried Capt Duffy’s body on the 13km journey from Blackrock Island, arriving at the pier shortly before 2pm.

Relatives of Capt Duffy were waiting on the pier, as his coffin was taken ashore by Naval Service divers. A tricolour was placed over the coffin.

A lone piper from Achill Coast Guard then led a cortege along the shoreline of Blacksod Bay, followed by members of the Irish Coast Guard, Naval Service, the Civil Defence and Commissioners of Irish Lights.

Capt Duffy’s body has been taken to Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar for a postmortem, which will be carried out on Monday, according to Supt Tony Healy.

Mr Healy said that intensive searches are still continuing for Paul Ormsby and Ciaran Smith, the two winch crew members from Rescue 116, who are still missing following the crash.

The fourth crew-member, Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, had been  recovered from the sea after the crash and died later in hospital.

The Marine Institute’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) is being deployed again from the Irish Lights ship, Granuaile, and the Naval Service and Garda diving teams intend to dive again on the wreck site and nearby areas if conditions allow on Sunday evening.

Diving had to be suspended on Saturday due to a considerable Atlantic swell, but the ROV worked through Saturday night on the wreck site, using cutting equipment to make the aircraft wreckage more accessible.

The ROV was deployed again on Sunday morning but was then withdrawn to allow the divers to gain access to the wreckage.

After leaving Blacksod, the cortege stopped at Eachléim, where volunteers at the community centre also formed a guard of honour to pay their respects.

Speaking on Sunday, Irish Coast Guard incident manager Micheal O’Toole said: “Today is a particularly poignant day for ourselves in the Irish Coast Guard.

“We’ve recovered our colleague Capt Mark Duffy. Our thoughts are with his family, his wife Hermione, daughter Esme, son Fionn and his extended family.

“Equally, the Coast Guard family are very cognisant that we’re still missing our two other colleagues and we maintain a focus on that, and our thoughts are with them and Mark Duffy’s family today,” he said

He said thoughts were also with the family of Ms Fitzpatrick and her flying colleagues in CHC Ireland.

Wreckage

Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) chief inspector Jurgen Whyte confirmed that efforts may be made to lift a segment of the wreckage on the seabed to check if the missing crewmen are there.

Airbags may be used to partially raise the segment around the gearbox and engines, he said.

Only after that would a decision be made on whether to focus on recovering pieces of wreckage that may be required for the investigation, he said.

Mr Whyte confirmed that the helicopter’s “black box” had been flown to England for data analysis to establish the cause of the crash.

The “black box” had been recovered on Friday.

Lt Cdr Darragh Kirwan of the LÉ Samuel Beckett said the continued search for the two missing airmen is very much dependent on the weather.

“We still have a weather window that we can operate in, but even from hour to hour it can change,” Mr Kirwan said.

“You have these very localised conditions with swell and a surge of water around the rock and that is what the diving officer has to evaluate before putting divers down to the seabed.”

Visibility is “good” at up to 10m in the seabed area, but there is considerable debris from the aircraft, Lt Dan Humphries, head of the Naval Service diving section, said.

“Conditions [in the water] are somewhat hazardous, but they are safe for diving operations at the moment,” he said.

A four-knot tidal stream, a heavy current in the area and winds had resulted in suspension of diving for a brief time on Sunday morning, Mr Humphries said.

“Hopefully in the next few hours, when the tide changes, I will be able to get divers back in the water,” Mr Humphries said.

“If not, we will be able to conduct ROV searches from the Granuaile later this evening.

“We have now to search and confirm the immediate vicinity is cleared. Once that’s done we can conduct an expanding search around the area, and then move out further,” he said.

Garda divers from the Garda Water Unit were assisting with an inshore search on Blackrock Island, he added.

Irish Lights director of operations and navigation Capt Robert McCabe said the Granuaile was committed to continuing with the search.

Irish Coast Guard incident manager Derek Flanagan said that weather and sea conditions were much better than on Saturday, when there was a heavy Atlantic swell.