Rescue 116 wreckage may be lifted in search for crew

‘Hugely challenging’ sea conditions hampering work on crashed Coast Guard helicopter

Coast Guard operations manager Gerard O’Flynn said “all options have been and are being considered”.  Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Coast Guard operations manager Gerard O’Flynn said “all options have been and are being considered”. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

The wreckage of Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 may have to be lifted directly off the seabed off north Mayo in the continuing search for missing crew members Paul Ormsby (53) and Ciarán Smith (38).

Coast Guard operations manager Gerard O’Flynn said “all options have been and are being considered” and “we have had many offers of expertise and assistance from the outset”.

“It always was, and is, a two-stage process to undertake a subsea inspection by rotating or moving the wreck for an underwater inspection, and then at some stage – yet to be determined – to retrieve the wreckage,” he said. “The absolute priority is to find the two casualties.”

Naval Service divers had spent two days fixing an airbag to part of the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter, which crashed with four crew on board in the early hours of March 14th, to try to reposition the wreckage for an underwater inspection.

The section is at a depth of 40m in a channel 60m off the southeast corner of Blackrock island. However, efforts to inflate the airbag from a small boat were hampered by spring tides and sea conditions at the exposed location.

Senior pilot Capt Dara Fitpatrick (45) was rescued by RNLI Achill lifeboat from the sea on the morning of the crash and died later in hospital, while the body of her colleague,co-pilot Mark Duffy (51) was recovered from the cockpit area of the wreckage on Sunday. His funeral takes place on Thursday in Blackrock, Co Louth.

‘Hugely challenging’

Supt Tony Healy of Belmullet gardaí described the conditions for the divers as “hugely challenging” when he confirmed a temporary suspension of the flotation attempt on Tuesday night.

The combination of spring tides, currents and swell meant diving was akin to being on an “out-of-control escalator”, even at 40m depth.

When the wind turned southwards on Tuesday evening, the Granuaile and the Marine Institute’s remotely operated vehicle, deployed to monitor the lift on camera, were under severe pressure to hold safe positions.

The Coast Guard Sligo-based helicopter Rescue 118 and RNLI lifeboats from Ballyglass, Co Mayo, Sligo and Bundoran are continuing search efforts.

Coast Guard shore units and Civil Defence with drones are combing sections of the coastline, Mr O’Flynn said, and only the subsea element has been suspended until sea conditions improve.