Sunday 23 April 2017

Investigators focus on possible 'electrical failure' in tragic Rescue 116 crash

  • Signal from black box found near lighthouse
  • Hopes that divers can start salvage today
  • Three crew members still missing
  • No mayday call because of 'catastrophic failure' on board

The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
15th March 2017
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 15th March 2017
The probe into the loss of Coast Guard Rescue 116 helicopter is currently centring on whether 'electrical failure' on the helicopter caused the crash. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Minister Shane Ross speaks to the media at the scene on Blacksod Pier. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
Debris from the missing Rescue 116 helicopter is brought back to Blacksod pier from another Coast Guard Helicopter. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Family members gather at Blacksod Pier. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Minister Shane Ross visits Blacksod Pier alongside, from left, Cllr Gerry Coyle, Garda Supt Tony Healy from Belmullet, Gerard O’Flynn, Operations Manager Irish Coast Guard, and Kevin Boxer Moran TD. Photo: Steve Humphreys
An RNLI Lifeboat pictured on its search for missing Coast Guard Crew members at Blacksod Bay. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
The LE Roisin pictured on its search for missing Coast Guard Crew members at Blacksod Bay. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
Heavy seas at Blacksod Bay which hampered search efforts for the missing crewmen of THe Coast Guard Helicopter today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
Heavy seas at Blacksod Bay which hampered search efforts for the missing crewmen of THe Coast Guard Helicopter today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
A sonar is placed over the side of a boat in the water to track the transponder during the search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 15th March 2017
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 15th March 2017
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 15th March 2017
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 15th March 2017
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 15th March 2017
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 15th March 2017
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 15th March 2017
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 15th March 2017
A sonar is placed in the water to track the transponder during the search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 15th March 2017
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 15th March 2017
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 15th March 2017
A sonar is placed in the water to track the transponder during the search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 15th March 2017
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys

Niall O'Connor, Ralph Riegel and Robin Schiller

The probe into the loss of Coast Guard Rescue 116 helicopter is currently centring on whether "electrical failure" on the helicopter caused the crash.

Investigators have also looked into the possibility the helicopter collided with the lighthouse at Blackrock, six miles off the coast of Mayo.

However, this theory is now discounted as there was no evidence of a collision with the rock and there was no wreckage around the lighthouse.

"There was no paint or debris on the lighthouse. There are 100 theories going around," a senior source involved in the investigation said.

Minister Shane Ross speaks to the media at the scene on Blacksod Pier. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.
Minister Shane Ross speaks to the media at the scene on Blacksod Pier. Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin.

This morning, Newstalk Breakfast reports that the Defence Forces confirmed in a statement that they were initially asked to provide top cover for this mission.

However, the request was denied due to the fact it was outside normal hours and there was a lack of "experienced personnel" available.

The request was logged at 10:06pm and the Air Corps was not able to carry out the mission as the fixed wing aircraft was unavailable.

Rescue 116 was subsequently dispatched instead.

The statement further added "plans are in place to deal with the shortages in personnel being experienced by the Air Corps."

The full-scale search is now homing in on an area near the lighthouse where the black box is now believed to be located.

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
A Coast Guard Helicopter is refulled at Blacksod Lighthouse today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017
A Coast Guard Helicopter lands at Blacksod Lighthouse today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
A Coast Guard Pilot pictured with a Helicopter at Blacksod Lighthouse today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
Gerard O'Flynn, Coast Guard, pictured at Blacksod Lighthouse. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
Coastguard Personnel pictured loading helicopter debris into a jeep at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet, today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
Boatmen pictured landing helicopter debris at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet, today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
The Garda Water Unit arriving at Blacksod Lighthouse for the search for the missing crew of The Coast Guard Helicopter. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
Boatmen pictured landing helicopter debris at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet, today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
The Garda Water Unit pictured preparing to join the search at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
Boatmen pictured landing helicopter debris at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet, today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
A Coast Guard Helicopter lands at Blacksod Lighthouse today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
Boatmen pictured landing helicopter debris at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet, today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
BOATMEN PICTURED LANDING HELICOPTER DEBRIS AT BLACKSOD LIGHTHOUSE TODAY. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN
Coast Guard Members searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus
People watching the lifeboat searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus
The lifeboat searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus
The Ballyglass lifeboat changing crew to continue the search for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod Pier, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus
14/03/2017 The Ballyglass lifeboat changing crew to continue the search for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod Pier, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus
Coastguard searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus
Coast Guard Members searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus
Coast Guard Members searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus
Gardai approaching the Ballyglass lifeboat changing crew to continue the search for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod Pier, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus
The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017
The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017
Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017
Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017
Helicopter wreckage is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017
Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017
The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017
Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017
Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017
Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Read more: 'Perfect, well-liked and selfless': The brave heroes of tragic Rescue 116

The crash claimed the life of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick while her crew of three, Ciaran Smith, Mark Duffy and Paul Ormsby, are still missing.

Officials believe there was no mayday call because of a "catastrophic failure" on board.

"It takes two seconds to press the mayday button. The fact they did not press the button shows the suddenness of the impact. They only had seconds before the crash," a source said.

Coast Guard officials also point to the impeccable safety record of Captain Fitzpatrick.

"She would never leave a stone unturned," they added.

The scale of the debris field from the downed helicopter has led to fears it may have disintegrated on impact with the sea or suffered a catastrophic collision around 1pm on Tuesday.

The revelation came as an underwater signal was successfully detected from the 'black box' of the downed Rescue 116 Sikorsky S-92A helicopter shortly after 4pm yesterday.

Rescuers detected the signal from the Multi Purpose Flight Recorder (MPFR) in water some 40 metres deep and just 60 metres from Blackrock Lighthouse.

The location is around 12km offshore from Blacksod Bay where the helicopter had planned to refuel early on Tuesday morning.

Naval Service and Irish Coast Guard officials hope the main fuselage of the helicopter is at the same spot.

The failure to locate the missing men on the sea surface has led to fears the trio may not have been able to escape the fuselage of the helicopter before it sank.

Locating a signal from the MPFR is described as a critical breakthrough in the investigation and recovery effort.

Weather permitting, divers will attempt to examine the debris field identified today.

Jurgen Whyte, chief inspector of the Air Investigation Unit, said the signal was coming from an area of difficult water with a 40m depth.

"Its hugely significant, other investigation authorities have spent months literally trying to do the same thing and we've been very lucky that, within less than 36 hours we've picked up with what is a signal.

"That means that the recorder has activated its beacon and we're now using sophisticated scanning equipment to home in on this signal itself," Mr Whyte said.

Meanwhile the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) will also liaise with the helicopter manufacturer, Sikorsky, to determine precisely what caused the worst tragedy in the history of the specialised search and rescue model.

Read more: 'On the same day, 39 years apart, we lost two children' - Tragedy strikes Fitzpatrick family for second time

US aviation engineers will assist AAIU inspectors in solving the mystery of what brought down an aircraft designed to defy the elements and to operate in the toughest flying conditions. One aviation source admitted the Rescue 116 tragedy is "baffling".

The last available flight record showed the helicopter heading in the general direction of the lighthouse at 90 knots (167kmh) around 12.45am en route to refuel at Blacksod.

The Commissioners of Irish Lights, which operates the Blackrock facility, will be one of a number of agencies now assisting the AAIU with its investigation.

CIL official Captain Robert McCabe confirmed all aids to navigation on the lighthouse were fully operational at the time.

Transport Minister Shane Ross visited the area yesterday and praised the family members of the three missing men for their "extraordinary bravery" in recent days.

Irish Independent

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