Mystery surrounds crash at sea as Coast Guard helicopter tragedy 'unlikely to have been caused by mechanical fault'
- 'Dark cloud over Ireland'
- Mystery surrounds crash at sea
- Tragedy 'unlikely to have been caused by mechanical fault'
- Search for missing members resumes today
- LE Eithne joins search off west coast
The families of three missing Coast Guard helicopter crew are praying that they will be found after a tragedy that left a "dark cloud over Ireland".
A full-scale search will continue this morning for the members who went missing after the helicopter they were travelling in crashed near Blacksod on the Mayo coast.
Irish Defence Forces' LE Eithne has now also joined the search.
One crew member, Captain Dara Fitzpatrick (45), was recovered early yesterday morning. The experienced pilot was transferred to hospital in a critical condition, but she was later pronounced dead.
The three other missing people are father-of-three Ciaran Smith (38), from Oldtown in north county Dublin; Mark Duffy, a father-of-two from Co Louth, and experienced winchman Paul Ormsby.
Rescue 116 and its crew had travelled from Dublin to the west of Ireland to assist another Coast Guard helicopter when the incident occurred at around 1am. Coast Guard sources said there was no evidence that the crew of the stricken helicopter had attempted to send a mayday call. This would suggest that whatever happened, the crash was unlikely to have been caused by a mechanical fault.
But the sources stressed that it was too early in the investigation to speculate on the cause.
The Dublin-based crew had been providing top cover for another Coast Guard helicopter, Rescue 118, that was performing a medical evacuation off the coast of Mayo.
Rescue 116 was returning to base when it fell out of contact. A search operation got under way and a large amount of debris was found.
Members of the Irish Coast Guard were involved in a search operation to find the three missing men throughout yesterday, and were helped by the RNLI, the Air Corps, the Defence Forces, as well as local fishing vessels.
Families of the missing crew members gathered at the lighthouse in Blacksod, Co Mayo, shortly after 6pm yesterday, where they met rescue workers involved in the search for their loved ones.
Gerard O'Flynn, VS&T operations manager of the Irish Coast Guard, said that the search would be scaled down overnight and resume this morning.
"The search will continue, albeit at a reduced level. Recovery of debris has been a feature of the search all day, I think you saw a bigger piece come in there and that's all part of your Accident Investigation Unit and will be all taken into storage.
"Unfortunately, with the passage of time, the level of hope does go down - but you never know, pilots are exceptionally well-trained people, they're exceptionally physically fit.
"So you know, you hang on to a thread of hope, but you have to be fearful that with the passage of time that the chances of people surviving is reducing."
He had earlier confirmed that Capt Fitzpatrick had been pronounced dead in hospital. She was one of very few female civilian rescue pilots worldwide.
She had more than 20 years' flying experience and was chief pilot in Waterford since 2002. She described her job as "challenging and exciting" during the filming of the 'Rescue 117' documentary for RTÉ. "Dara was the most senior pilot and has been with the company for close on 20 years. For all of us involved in the Coast Guard, and for particularly her family, it has come as a complete shock," Mr O'Flynn said.
Her sister, Niamh Fitzpatrick, also paid tribute. "My brave sister Capt Dara Fitzpatrick lost her life in Rescue 116 crash.
"We are devastated. Please pray for recovery of three remaining crew," Ms Fitzpatrick wrote on social media.
Meanwhile, Mark Dearey, the chairman of Dundalk Municipal District, who knows Mark Duffy and his wider family, said they were "hoping against hope".
As the search progressed, the LÉ Róisín carried a large amount of debris to near the coastline, where it was met by smaller trawlers who brought the objects to shore.
However, the recovery of the flight recorders, or the black box, will be crucial to determine what happened.
Speaking in Washington, Taoiseach Enda Kenny extended the "deepest sympathy" of the Government to the family of Capt Fitzpatrick.
Mr Kenny said he knew the area of the Mayo coast where Rescue 116 went down well.
"It is striking that on a bright spring day, such a dark cloud hangs over Ireland," he said.
President Michael D Higgins said: "Today marks a dark day in the history of the Coast Guard."