Two missing crewmen not found as search teams lift wreckage of Rescue 116
Search teams have recovered the wreckage of the Rescue 116 helicopter off the Mayo coast but have not yet been able to locate two missing Irish Coast Guard members.
The aircraft's main section was lifted onto the Granuaile this afternoon, with the help of a specialist salvage vessel, the Ocean Challenger.
A Naval Service dive team had earlier attached specialist equipment to the wreckage of the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter to assist with the operation.
However, despite managing to recover the aircraft on what is the 20th day of the large scale operation, investigators this evening said that they have still not been able to locate the two missing crewmen - winch operator Ciaran Smith (38) and winch man Paul Ormsby (53).
"The hope remains, we haven't given up hope. We will continue to search for another period given that we have resources on scene and available," Irish Coast Guard operations manager Gerard O'Flynn said.
The crew men's families have been briefed on the development and search operations will continue along the west coast, with the search area expected to be expanded.
It is almost three weeks since the helicopter crashed into Blackrock Island with four crew members on board.
The bodies of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick and Captain Mark Duffy have been recovered.
Supt Tony Healy also paid tribute to the hundreds of rescue personnel who had been involved in the painstaking operating over the last three weeks.
"We achieved our target today of lifting the wreckage and inspecting underneath it. Unfortunately we didn't find any of the crewmen today, but the conditions were just really on the edge and it's a tribute to all the people who are out there today, particularly the local people and the local boats out there today.
"We had the Granuile, the Ocean Challenger, the LE James Joyce, the underwater ROV. It was a hugely challenging day and we had a huge amount of teamwork and despite the odds we were able to raise the portion of the helicopter today ," Supt Healy said.
"Weather conditions are expected to dis-improve over the next period of time and the air and land searches will continue and will progress.
"It is a very disappointing day; we go out expecting to find two remaining crewmen. Where there's hope of recovering our two missing crewmen we will continue," the senior garda added.
Lieut Dan Humphries, who was in charge of the 12-man Naval Service dive team involved in searching for the two missing crewmen, described the sea conditions as "horrendous" while praising all of the agencies involved in the large operation.
"It was approximately a four to five metre swell, with waves as well and also force eight winds on top of that so it was hazardous. But again the effort put in by all agencies, especially the (Marine Institute) ROV team was fantastic," Lieut Humphries said.
On Saturday, the Air Accident Investigation Unit said there was no indication of any mechanical problems in the seconds before the impact.
The AAIU said the investigation into the crash is ongoing and a preliminary report will be issued in the near future.
Previous rescue dives have been hampered by ocean swells. A remotely-operated vehicle was used to clear some of the mangled wreckage and open access to the cockpit.
An underwater camera was also used around the wreck site in a bid to find the bodies of the two crew members who are still missing.
The AAIU has said it believed the tail of Rescue 116 hit rocks on the western end of the island as it returned from supporting a rescue mission to refuel at Blacksod.
There was no indication of any danger moments before the Sikorsky S92 vanished, with the crew's final transmission: "Shortly landing at Blacksod."
The inquiry into the cause of the crash is now likely to focus on operational issues.
Chief Inspector of the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) Jurgen Whyte said that the investigative aspect was a "long way" from concluding and that more evidence would be gathered to determine what caused the tragic collision.
"We have recovered all of the data from the flight data recorder...it takes a significant amount of time to analyse. As we said our opinion is that there were no mechanical anomalies and we must now focus on the operational side. It's a long arduous investigation which will take several months," Mr Wyhte said.
"There's a lot more evidence to gather and there's a lot of interviews to do...a lot of procedures and we must talk to the different players involved. That takes time; takes time to gather facts, time to analyse and time to come to a conclusion," the senior investigator added.