Wednesday 20 September 2017

Hopes rise that bodies of missing Rescue 116 crew could be recovered

‘Significant’ wreckage of helicopter is found

The crew of Rescue 116; (left to right) Paul Ormsby, Mark Duffy, Dara Fitzpatrick and Ciaran Smith,
The crew of Rescue 116; (left to right) Paul Ormsby, Mark Duffy, Dara Fitzpatrick and Ciaran Smith,

Robin Schiller

A fresh search for the missing crew of Rescue 116 is expected to be carried out tomorrow with the hope of establishing whether the three missing men are with the wreckage.

It follows the significant discovery of large remains of the Irish Coast Guard helicopter on the seabed roughly 12km off the Mayo coast.

Families of the R116 crew return to Blacksod pier after visiting the scene of the crash at Blackrock lighthouse. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Families of the R116 crew return to Blacksod pier after visiting the scene of the crash at Blackrock lighthouse. Photo: Steve Humphreys

It was discovered some 60 metres from Black Rock island, where investigators believe the helicopter struck rocks before crashing into the sea.

Due to deteriorating weather conditions, the next phase of the operation is hoped to be carried out tomorrow morning, when either a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) or a dive team will examine the wreckage.

However, crews will also be on standby throughout today if a weather window arises.

An underwater robot was deployed after 9am yesterday.

During the course of the operation the ROV found what search teams believe is the wreckage of Rescue 116.

The discovery was described as a "significant development" in what was the eighth day of the massive search operation.

Read more: Underwater robot deployed in latest attempt to search for Rescue 116 and missing crewmen

Investigators stressed that it has not yet been established if the three missing crewmen - Mark Duffy, Ciarán Smith and Paul Ormsby - are with the wreckage.

The aircraft's experienced pilot, Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, was recovered from the sea last Tuesday but later pronounced dead.

Supt Tony Healy, of Belmullet garda station, said that the location searched was close to where the signal of the aircraft's black box was detected.

"We're actively assessing what we found at the moment," he said.

"This is a hugely significant step in the ongoing process of the recovery of the crew of Rescue 116.

"We've found parts of the helicopter that we can identify as Rescue 116."

Senior investigators have stated that the primary focus is the recovery of the crew.

Jurgen Whyte, chief inspector with the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU), added that it is the "absolute hope" that the three missing Coast Guard workers are with the wreckage.

"It's hugely positive, we could hear the beacon, we were homing in on the beacon and the proof in the pie is we have located the main part of the wreckage which is the helicopter itself.

"We have the wreckage so it's just a matter of getting the weather window to get the ROV down, work our way through the wreckage and hopefully we will be able to recover the crew," Mr Whyte said.

"The priority has always been the recovery of the crew members, the recorder and then possibly the wreckage.

"Please God, if we're successful in recovering the three crew members, we will focus our attention on the recorder.

"Depending on what we hear from the recording we will recover some, parts or all of the wreckage," the senior investigator added.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News