A Co Cork salvage team plans to lift wreckage of the Irish Coast Guard Rescue 116 helicopter from the north Mayo seabed this weekend in the search for two missing air crew.
The Irish Coast Guard has engaged Bere Island company Atlantic Towage and Marine, which recovered the racing yacht Rambler 100 after it capsized off the Fastnet rock in 2011, and the tall ship Astrid which ran up on rocks off Kinsale, Co Cork in 2013.
Naval Service divers and the Marine Institute’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Holland 1 will work with the salvage team, using a direct lift technique to raise a five-tonne section off the seabed and inspect the area around it.
Irish Coast Guard operations manager Gerard O'Flynn has emphasised that the "absolute priority" is to find winch team Paul Ormsby (53) and Ciaran Smith (38), who have been missing since the Dublin-based Sikorsky S-92 helicopter crashed off Blackrock island early on March 14th.
Senior pilot Capt Dara Fitzpatrick (45) was recovered from the sea and died within hours of the crash, some 13 km west of north Mayo.
The body of her co-pilot Capt Mark Duffy (51) was retrieved from the helicopter's cockpit last Sunday by the Naval Service dive team.
The 35-metre Ocean Challenger will position itself over the wreck site, 13km west of Blacksod in a narrow and turbulent channel separating Blackrock island and Parrot rock. The wreck lies some 40m below.
The ROV deployed from Irish Lights ship Granuaile will monitor the lift in “real time” with high definition camera, and Naval Service patrol ship LE James Joyce will provide on-scene co-ordination.
Air, sea and shore searches have continued, and RNLI lifeboat volunteers are travelling from as far north as Co Down and as far south as Co Kerry to give Mayo colleagues some respite, some 18 days into the search.
The RNLI Achill, Ballyglass and Arranmore all-weather lifeboats from Mayo and Donegal, and the Sligo and Bundoran inshore lifeboats were at sea again on Friday.
Food donations for search crews are continuing to arrive at the local community hall in Eachléim, with businesses in Sligo and school pupils from Holy Family senior national school and Loreto secondary in Swords, Co Dublin among most recent contributors.