Search for missing Rescue 116 airmen continues 130 days on
Garda says good weather allowing exploring of ‘pockets that may have been missed’
Helicopter crew (clockwise): Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Mark Duffy, Ciarán Smith and Paul Ormsby.
More than 130 days since the Irish Coast Guard’s Rescue 116 helicopter crashed off north Mayo with the loss of four lives, a fresh Garda-led search for its two missing winch crew is to continue this week.
The Irish Lights ship Granuaile is to remain on station for the next two days to deploy sub-sea equipment around Blackrock island, some 13 km west, as the search for the bodies of two of the crew continue.
However, even a relatively tranquil azure Atlantic is still yielding no clues, in spite of the best efforts to locate airmen Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith.
Outside Blacksod lighthouse, where the helicopter had been due to land to refuel on March 14th, a spray of white chrysanthemums and a red gerbera daisy had been propped up carefully with four boulders in memory of the two winch crew and their colleagues Capt Dara Fitzpatrick and Capt Mark Duffy.
In bright sunshine and a fresh north-westerly breeze, Garda divers and a team of 25 club divers from Donegal, Mayo and Galway undertook a series of descents over the weekend in areas around the Duvillaun and Inishkea islands.
The outcrops lie to the north and south-east of Blackrock, where the helicopter crashed, and are within range of the north-south tidal sweep between Achill and Annagh Head.
“We focused on gullies and inlets where debris might be washed into,”Granuaile sub-aqua club diver Mick Loftus explained.
The club divers are all accredited by the Irish Underwater Council in search and recovery, and participated in a previous co-ordinated “dive-in” to try and locate the missing men.
Supt Tony Healy of Belmullet Garda station, who is leading the fresh effort, said the weather was facilitating approaches to “pockets that might have been missed before, due to weather and swell”.
Irish Coast Guard Ballyglass unit officer-in-charge Michael Hurst was burnt from sun and wind, as he and his team of 16 volunteers revisited areas of shoreline along the Mullet peninsula.
Irish Lights director of operations and navigation Capt Robert McCabe said that the Granuaile was taking advantage of the weather and sea conditions to survey areas on the northern, western and southern perimeters of Blackrock with the Marine Institute’s remotely operated vehicle (ROV).
“There is an 80m patch on the north side which we hope to survey on Monday, and these are all areas which the ship couldn’t approach before due to the swell,”he explained.
The ship is due to leave Blacksod Bay for Galway on Tuesday night’s tide.