Rescue 116: Pilot’s family speak of devastation and distress

Capt Dara Fitzpatrick expressed belief in cockpit that Blackrock a ‘small little island’

Members of the Irish Coast Guard return to base after recovering parts of the crashed helicopter off the Co Mayo coast. Photograph:  Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Members of the Irish Coast Guard return to base after recovering parts of the crashed helicopter off the Co Mayo coast. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

 

The family of Irish Coast Guard pilot Capt Dara Fitzpatrick have said they are “devastated and distressed” for all the families affected by the loss of four lives in the Rescue 116 helicopter crash.

In a short statement issued by the late pilot’s sister, Niamh, the Fitzpatrick family said they would not be commenting on the preliminary Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) report which was published on Thursday night.

Capt Fitzpatrick (45) and her co-pilot Capt Mark Duffy (51) were the first confirmed casualties of the crash a month ago off Blackrock island, 13km west of the Mayo coast.

The search is continuing for winch operator Paul Ormsby (53) and winchman Ciarán Smith (38) and Garda divers may return to Blackrock island next week.

The 38-page preliminary report indicates that a chain of events – some still to be investigated – led to the fatal crash, including reliance on an operator’s route guide which lacked vital information on the north Mayo coast and an absence of data on Blackrock in the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning Systems (EGPWS).

The route guide to Blacksod helicopter pad included Blackrock island as a waypoint on a prescribed approach in from the west.

While the island’s height at 282ft is marked, the aeronautical chart depicts it as a red dot without any indication of land mass.

In the recorded cockpit conversation, Capt Fitzpatrick believed it to be a “small little island”.

Review of route guides

The preliminary report has recommended that CHC Ireland, which runs the helicopter service for the Irish Coast Guard, review all of its operational route guides in use by search and rescue helicopters in Ireland.

This should be with a view to improving information on “obstacle heights and positions, terrain clearance, vertical profile, the positions of waypoints in relation to obstacles and EGPWS database terrain and obstacle limitations”, the AAIU says.

The fact that none of the four crew were located by satellite beacons is also explored in the preliminary report, which found conflicting information on how they are installed in lifejackets.

This could have precluded them from activating – due to proximity of beacon to GPS antenna.

CHC Ireland has “noted” safety recommendations made.

“ A review of all route guides in use is well under way as part of our own internal action,” it said. “We will continue to fully support the ongoing AAIU investigation.

“It is worth stressing that this is an initial report and it does not identify the root cause of this tragic accident,” it said. “Speculation as to the root cause is unhelpful to the process and potentially hurtful to the families and friends of those involved,” it said.

“Our thoughts remain with the family, friends and colleagues of those who were lost and we continue to support the search for our two remaining crewmen,” CHC Ireland said.