Search for two air crew continues as wreckage found off Donegal

Rescue 116 tragedy: Body of co-pilot Capt Mark Duffy recovered by Naval Service divers

The body of Captain Mark Duffy has been recovered from the cockpit of the Rescue 116 Coast Guard helicopter located on the sea bed near Blackrock island, 13km west of the north Mayo coast. Video: Keith Heneghan

Debris from the Irish Coast Guard Rescue 116 helicopter which crashed off north Mayo almost a fortnight ago has been picked up as far north as Donegal as the search continues for missing winch team Paul Ormsby and Ciaran Smith.

Attempts are to be made to partially float the wreckage in a depth of 40m off Blackrock island, 13km west of north Mayo on Monday, to establish if the bodies of the two missing men are under the wreckage.

The body of their colleague, co-pilot Capt Mark Duffy (51), was released from the cockpit of the aircraft by Naval Service divers on Sunday.

Senior pilot Capt Dara Fitzpatrick (45) was recovered from the sea after the crash on March 14th, and died later.


Supt Tony Healy of Belmullet Garda station said some floating debris had been found on the Donegal coastline on Saturday. The Irish Coast Guard said it was retrieved at Portnoo, and brought to Glenties Garda station.

“As debris is found along the coast, the search is extending to match that,” said Supt Healy.

Garda divers scanned a wider seabed area around the wreck site on Sunday, and the Marine Institute’s remotely operated vehicle is being deployed overnight.

A guard of honour was formed by rescue agencies at Blacksod pier on Sunday afternoon as Capt Duffy’s body was brought ashore.

The Irish Coast Guard Rescue 115 helicopter from Shannon escorted the Naval Service ship LE Samuel Beckett on the 13km journey in as relatives waited on the pier.


The 51-year-old native of Dundalk, Co Louth, who began flying search and rescue with CHC Ireland for the Irish Coast Guard 15 years ago, is survived by his wife Hermione, daughter Esme (14), son Fionn (12) and extended family.

After formal identification, a Tricolour was placed over the coffin, and an Irish Coast Guard vehicle, followed by lone piper David McNamara from Achill Coast Guard, led the cortege past Blacksod lighthouse. It was there that the alarm was raised almost a fortnight before by lightkeeper Vincent Sweeney when Rescue 116 failed to land for refuelling ,

As the cortege took the coastal road up Blacksod Bay, bound for Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar, it paused at the Gaeltacht village of Eachléim, where several hundred Erris residents and volunteers who have been providing shore support paid tribute.

Irish Coast Guard incident manager Micheal O’Toole expressed sympathies on behalf of all the rescue agencies, and said their thoughts were with the families of all four air crew.


Air Accident Investigation Unit chief inspector Jurgen Whyte said he remained "hopeful" of finding the missing men when the engine and gearbox section of the craft was floated off the seabed. "If we are not successful there we will continue to expand our area of search in the wreckage field, which is about the size of a football pitch."

Lieut Cdr Darragh Kirwan of the LE Samuel Beckett said his crew was "fully cognisant of the fact that so many agencies are involved in this, and all with a clear link with Rescue 116 and the work they have been doing for years.

“The families are here, and at the end of the day it is about the families,” he said.

Lieut Dan Humphries, head of the Naval Service diving section, said visibility was "good" at up to 10m in the seabed area, but there was considerable debris from the aircraft and a four-knot tidal stream.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times