Both Air Corps' patrol planes unavailable for Rescue 116 search due to 'scheduled maintenance'
The two Air Corps maritime patrol planes have not been available to help in the search for missing Rescue 116 for more than two weeks because of "scheduled maintenance", it has emerged.
Defence Forces personnel have been involved in the search for the missing members of helicopter since it crashed into Black Rock island, Co Mayo in the early hours of March 14.
But it has now emerged that two sophisticated aircraft have not been available for the search.
In response to a question from Independent.ie, a spokeswoman for the Irish Defence Forces confirmed that they operate two CASA CN235 Maritime Patrol aircraft. However, both are currently out of commission.
"One aircraft commenced routine scheduled maintenance on 20th February 2017 and is due to return on 5th June 2017. This maintenance is being conducted with the aircraft manufacturer in Spain and must be carried out every 18 months by law," a statement read.
"The other aircraft commenced routine scheduled maintenance in Baldonnel on 20th March 2017 with an expected return to service date of 7th April 2017. Shorter term maintenance must take place every 1,200hrs of flying time."
The spokeswoman said the overlap was "unavoidable" as the Air Corps are "compelled by law" to conduct the necessary works.
In the absence of both CASA, the Air Corps has used 45-year-old Cessna aircraft and AW139 helicopters for visual searches around the Atlantic.
The statement continued: "Additionally the Air Corps continues to provide a broad range of services on a daily basis for a diverse range of tasks such as Army and Naval Service support, the emergency aero-medical service, maritime patrols and fishery protection, the ministerial air transport service, inter-hospital transfers and aid to the civil power duties including the Garda air support unit and security escorts."
Last month it was revealed that the Irish Air Corps Casa had been requested to provide 'top cover' to Rescue 118 as it was taking part in a medevac off the coast of Mayo.
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The Defence Forces said they were unable to provide the service due to "a loss of experienced personnel (both Air Crew and Air Traffic Control)".
Rescue 116 was subsequently sent instead on the ill-fated mission.
Searches are continuing this weekend for missing crewmen Ciarán Smith (38) and Paul Ormsby (53). Captain Dara Fitzpatrick was taken from the water on the morning of the accident but later died in hospital. The body of Captain Mark Duffy was later recovered from inside the wreckage of the helicopter.