A fleet of fishing vessels will converge on north Mayo's Blackrock island at first light on Saturday to sweep the Atlantic seaboard for two missing Irish Coast Guard airmen, Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith.
The co-ordinated search will set out from the island 13km west of the Mullet peninsula where the men's Rescue 116 helicopter crashed more than three weeks ago and will extend up to Donegal's Arranmore island.
Three fishing organisations have emphasised that safety must be paramount in the search, following an appeal for the fishing industry’s detailed knowledge of the coast by Ciarán Smith’s sister, Orla, earlier this week.
“It is the least we can do for the Irish Coast Guard, which has done so much for us,” Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) chief executive Sean O’Donoghue said.
Some 12 vessels, mainly refrigerated sea water or larger "tank" boats and some whitefish vessels will steam down from Killybegs, Co Donegal on Friday evening and will undertake a reconnaissance en route, he said.
They will be joined by smaller inshore vessels from around the coast, according to Erris Inshore Fishermen's Association spokesman Eamon Dixon, who has welcomed the response of the KFO and Irish Fish Producers' Organisation (IFPO).
"Malin Head Coast Guard is working out search patterns for us and we hope to search every square mile from Clare Island in Co Mayo to Dunfanaghy [Co Donegal], both inshore and up to 35-40 miles west, weather permitting," Mr Dixon said.
Irish Coast Guard senior pilot Dara Fitzpatrick (45) and co-pilot Mark Duffy (51) were the first two confirmed casualties of the Dublin-based Sikorsky S-92 crash in the early hours of March 14th.
“We are also asking all fishing vessels operating in the area to keep a close eye out for any debris from the helicopter,” the KFO and IFPO said in a joint statement, confirming that the search plan had been discussed with the Irish Coast Guard, and emphasising “safety was of paramount importance”.
The organisations appealed to smaller vessel owners not to risk going to sea in a very fickle area of the coastline with strong tides and currents.
The Irish Coast Guard has pledged to continue air, sea and shore searches. The Irish Lights ship Granuaile is returning to Blacksod Bay to undertake more sub-sea work of the crash site with the Marine Institute’s remotely operated vehicle, Holland 1.
Rescue 116 helicopter wreckage was transported by road to the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) in Gormanston, Co Meath, on Wednesday, following its delivery to Galway port. The section includes the helicopter's rotor head, main gear box and one engine.
The AAIU has already ruled out mechanical fault in its initial analysis of the helicopter’s “black box” data.