Sunday 25 June 2017

The wreckage of a missing Dublin-bound helicopter has been located, remains of five people also located - police

Weston Airport Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Weston Airport Photo: Kyran O'Brien

Kathy Armstrong, Denise Calnan, Alan O'Keeffe and Ralph Riegel

The helicopter which went missing while on-route to Dublin has been found police have confirmed.

"Sadly we can confirm that the wreckage of the helicopter that went #missing yesterday has been located along with the bodies of 5 people," North Wales Police said in a tweet this afternoon.

Earlier the search moved inland amid fears it may have gone down over land.

The move came after the examination of radar and communication devices indicated that the Twin Squirrel helicopter may have gone missing over land rather than in the water.

Map shows location of search operation
Map shows location of search operation

Seven mountain rescue teams and a dog search team were involved in trying to find the missing helicopter.

Coast Guard officials said emergency beacons which are triggered on contact with salt water never activated.

UK police and Coast Guards units also used mobile phone signals to try to determine the locations of the missing Airbus.

A massive sea search was called off overnight due to "low lying cloud and extremely poor visibility".

The UK Coastguard was co-ordinating the major search operation over the Irish Sea for the Airbus/Eurocopter Twin Squirrel helicopter which vanished off radar in the Caernarfon Bay area overnight on Wednesday.

The search for the helicopter was launched yesterday at 4.15pm and was focused between the Caernarfon Bay area, in north Wales, and Dublin.

The aircraft was last detected on radar in the Caernarfon Bay area, less than 20km off the Welsh coast.

Two UK Coastguard helicopters were sweeping areas off the Welsh coast using infra-red camera technology for any signs of debris.

However, in the early hours of the morning this search was called off. In a statement the UK Coast Guard said:

"Due to low lying cloud, visibility has been extremely poor and has hampered the search efforts.  The helicopters have now returned to their respective bases and there are no plans at this stage to continue the aerial search unless the weather improves significantly.

"North Wales Police have taken over the search operation and have called in Mountain Rescue Teams to continue the land based search in the Snowdonia area."

Declan Geoghegan of the Irish Coast Guard told RTE Radio One they were contacted yesterday to provide help.

He said they scanned their maritime frequency bands to see if the helicopter had made any contact but there was no information on it.

"We haven't been requested for any assets as of yet. However if we are we would certainly task a helicopter to the area if they wish."

He explained that the Waterford, Sligo and Shannon based helicopters would be available.

He said the helicopter contacted Weston airport at around 11.30am yesterday "to say they would be late".

"They had given their previous ETA and then adjusted that for a stopover. They had intended flying directly to Dublin and then they had adjusted their flight plan.

"They contacted Weston to say their flight was around an hour late and after that no more was heard."

Director of Airport and Commercial Operations at Weston Airport Dave Scully said they could not provide any comment at this time.

"It's too early to comment as the search is still ongoing," he said.

The Twin Squirrel helicopter is one of the most popular light types operated by private firms and has an excellent safety record.

Mr Chris Sheil, owner of Executive Helicopters, said it's highly unlikely that the helicopter, which is understood to be red, is owned by an Irish person.

He explained: "There's only one twin squirrel helicopter in Ireland and that's a black one in the west.

"There aren't many helicopters in Ireland but there would be plenty of twin squirrels in the UK, they're regarded as being reliable.

"It's hard to say for sure but I'd say half the Twin Squirrels in the UK are commercial and the other half would be privately owned."

The missing helicopter is the same type as previously used by the Garda Air Support unit.

The helicopter is owned by Staske Construction Ltd in Milton Keynes which is run by Kevin and Ruth Burke who rent it out to film crews.

Operation

UK Coastguard said they contacted all vessels in the Irish Sea that were in the vicinity of the helicopter around midday.

Duty Commander Peter Davies said they are appealing to these vessels and to the public that if they have seen a twin squirrel red helicopter to please contact 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

The incident comes just two weeks after and Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 vanished off the coast of Mayo with four crew on board.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick (45) and Captain Mark Duffy (51) died in the tragedy.

Searches for winch operator Paul Ormbsy (53) and Ciaran Smith (38) are continuing in Blacksod.

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