Monday 21 August 2017

Reconstruction shows R116 crew almost avoided disaster

The shrouded wreckage of R116 passes through Galway after being recovered from the seabed. Picture: Steve Humphries
The shrouded wreckage of R116 passes through Galway after being recovered from the seabed. Picture: Steve Humphries
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

The partial reconstruction of the downed Rescue 116 helicopter has supported indications that its tail rotor clipped a Mayo island as the crew tried to avoid an obstacle which was not displayed on their special ground avoidance navigation system.

The wreckage of the Irish Coast Guard Sikorsky S-92A is being painstakingly reassembled and examined by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) at their facility in Gormanstown, Co Meath.

It is expected the process will take several months but the Irish Independent has learned all evidence from the wreckage so far has supported the black box indications that the tail rotor was virtually ripped off the helicopter when it clipped a structure on Black Rock Island.

Out of control, the helicopter stayed aloft for several seconds before plunging into the sea.

Such is the damage that the entire wreckage cannot be fully reassembled.

Tragically, a preliminary analysis has indicated the US-built helicopter almost avoided disaster in the early hours of March 14 thanks to the reactions of the skilled flight crew, Captain Dara Fitzpatrick and Captain Mark Duffy.

Read More: 'Ciaran absolutely blessed my life' - moving speech by widow of R116 hero Ciaran Smith

They swerved and climbed - following a warning from a winchman on board - after it was realised they were flying directly towards Black Rock Island and its steep cliffs as they headed towards Mayo.

The desperate climb saw the helicopter's main fuselage clear the island only for its tail, which was in a rotor-down position due to the rate of climb, to impact the island.

While the helicopter was equipped with an advanced navigation system known as Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS), Black Rock Island was not included in the imagery programmed into it.

This was apparently because the scan supplier was not satisfied with the imagery available for the Mayo island.

The AAIU last month released the final voice recordings from Rescue 116 and that indicated the crew received no warning from radar or the EGPWS that they were on a collision course with Black Rock Island.

Irish Independent

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