Sunday 25 June 2017

No indication mechanical failure caused R116 to crash

Black box data hasn't shown up any anomalies during early investigations, says crash inspector

Mourned: (from the top left, clockwise) Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy, and winchmen Ciaran Smith and Paul Ormsby
Mourned: (from the top left, clockwise) Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy, and winchmen Ciaran Smith and Paul Ormsby

Wayne O'Connor and Jerome Reilly

Preliminary findings show there were no mechanical issues with the Rescue 116 helicopter before it crashed off the coast of Mayo almost three weeks ago, according to investigators.

Data retrieved from the helicopter's black box is being analysed by an Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) team. Its preliminary analysis has found "no mechanical anomalies".

In the days after the crash it was believed the Sikorsky S-92A Coast Guard helicopter had suffered a catastrophic failure before it crashed into the sea off Blackrock, a small craggy island 12km offshore from Blacksod lighthouse on the Mullet peninsula.

Chief inspector of air accidents Jurgen White and the investigator-in-charge Paul Farrell confirmed their analysis has failed to find any mechanical issues that could have caused the crash.

A member of the Irish Coast Guard looks out towards Blackrock Lighthouse Photo: Steve Humphreys
A member of the Irish Coast Guard looks out towards Blackrock Lighthouse Photo: Steve Humphreys

"The investigation is still at a preliminary stage," they said in a statement.

"However, an initial analysis has been conducted of the data retrieved from the helicopter's health and usage monitoring system and the multi-purpose flight recorder. No mechanical anomalies have been identified during this initial analysis."

A preliminary report will be issued looking at the early findings from the investigation, which is ongoing.

"The AAIU is mindful that Sikorsky S-92A helicopters are in operation around the world in a variety of roles, including search and rescue," they added. "Following an event such as this, many operators and agencies are anxious to learn if any matters are identified during the ongoing investigation that may require immediate safety actions."

However, the statement confirmed that there are no immediate safety actions. It is believed the height at which the helicopter was flying before its final contact will form a crucial part of the inquiry.

It comes as a salvage team from west Cork had to halt efforts to lift the wreckage of the stricken helicopter yesterday because of hazardous weather conditions as the search for two crew members continues.

Paul Ormsby (53) and Ciaran Smith (38) are still missing and efforts to lift the wreckage, which remains 40m below the surface, have so far proved unsuccessful. Air accident investigators said last night: "The AAIU continues to work with other agencies to locate and recover the two missing crew members."

Capt Dara Fitzpatrick (45) was recovered from the sea by a lifeboat shortly after the crash but died hours later.

The body of her co-pilot Capt Mark Duffy (51) was retrieved from the helicopter's cockpit last Sunday and his funeral was held last Thursday.

Rescue 116 was a very new aircraft and had regular maintenance checks.

In the aftermath of the accident, no decision was taken to ground the remaining four Irish Coast Guard Sikorsky S-92 helicopters.

CHC, one of the world's largest providers of helicopter services, has a contract with the Irish Coast Guard to provide it with aircraft.

The firm said in a statement in the days after the crash: "There are currently no indications of previous technical issues relating to this particular airframe.

"As part of the investigation, all possible causes will be explored; this will include a full review of the technical aspects of the aircraft."

It said the aircraft which crashed complied with all airworthiness directives and alert service bulletins.

Sunday Independent

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