Monday 19 November 2018

Mini-robot now key to search as investigators fear Rescue 116 helicopter hit rocks in mystery crash

  • Mini-robot now key to recovering 'black box' of missing Rescue 116
  • Crew were responding to incident in which fisherman lost thumb
  • Fears helicopter collided with rocks
  • Investigators analysing wreckage discovered so far

The crew of Rescue 116: (left to right) Paul Ormsby, Mark Duffy, Dara Fitzpatrick and Ciaran Smith
The crew of Rescue 116: (left to right) Paul Ormsby, Mark Duffy, Dara Fitzpatrick and Ciaran Smith
A member of the Civil Defence searches the shoreline near Blacksod, Co Mayo, for wreckage. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Members of the Irish Coast Guard searching the coast near Belmullet, Co Mayo, for the missing crew of Rescue 116 Photo: Frank McGrath
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Picture: Steve Humphreys
HAZARD: Black Rock Lighthouse, 12km off Blacksod Picture: Steve Humphreys
JOINING THE SEARCH: Irish Naval vessel LE Eithne sails past Blacksod pier to join the search of the coastline near Belmullet for the crew of Rescue 116. Photo: Frank McGrath
Wreckage from Rescue 116 is brought back to Blacksod Pier. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Jim Murray Mayo Civil Defence prepares to search along the coastline at Annagh Co Mayo for the missing Rescue 116 helicopter and crew with their Matrice 600 Drone. Photo Steve Humphreys
The probe into the loss of Coast Guard Rescue 116 helicopter is currently centring on whether 'electrical failure' on the helicopter caused the crash. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Debris from the missing Rescue 116 helicopter is brought back to Blacksod pier from another Coast Guard Helicopter. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Minister Shane Ross visits Blacksod Pier alongside, from left, Cllr Gerry Coyle, Garda Supt Tony Healy from Belmullet, Gerard O’Flynn, Operations Manager Irish Coast Guard, and Kevin Boxer Moran TD. Photo: Steve Humphreys
A Navy vessel off Black Rock lighthouse, where the search for Rescue 116 is now being concentrated Picture: Collins
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Picture: Steve Humphreys
Black Rock lighthouse is seen from Blacksod Bay yesterday Picture: Michael Mac Sweeney/Provision
Search vessels look for wreckage from Rescue 116
A sonar is placed over the side of a boat in the water to track the transponder during the search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 15th March 2017
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 15th March 2017
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys
Collect photo of Blackrock Lighthouse where the search continues for Rescue 116. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Collect photo of Blackrock Lighthouse where the search continues for Rescue 116. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Paul Cooney from Cavan Civil Defence, Dave O'Sullivan from Mayo Civil Defence and Martina Duffy from Mayo Civil Defence search along the coastline at Annagh Co Mayo for the missing Rescue 116 helicopter and crew. Photo: Steve Humphreys
The search continues along the coastline for the missing Rescue 116 helicopter and crew. Photo Steve Humphreys
Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, one of the four Coast Guard crew members who died in the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins

Luke Byrne and Ralph Riegel

It is now feared the downed Irish Coast Guard Rescue 116 helicopter may have hit rocks on a remote Mayo island before crashing into the sea at the foot of steep cliffs.

A mini-submersible may be needed to find and recover the helicopter.

Preliminary examination of wreckage from the US-built Sikorsky S-92A helicopter has given further weight to the theory that the aircraft suffered a catastrophic incident seconds before it either crashed into the sea, or disintegrated after an attempted emergency landing on the isolated Black Rock island.

Last night, the Irish Coast Guard confirmed that the medical emergency the Rescue 116 was responding to related to a crewman losing a thumb on board a fishing vessel. A spokesman said a call was made that the helicopter should be dispatched after it was decided the crewman needed prompt medical attention due to the risk of septicaemia.

A sonar is placed over the side of a boat in the water to track the transponder during the search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
15th March 2017
A sonar is placed over the side of a boat in the water to track the transponder during the search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 15th March 2017

As the search continues - it looks increasingly likely that the helicopter collided with rocks.

Sources told the Irish Independent that the wreckage recovered so far displayed no sign of 'petalling', or the outward tearing of fuselage panels, consistent with an on-board explosion.

Debris from the missing Rescue 116 helicopter is brought back to Blacksod pier from another Coast Guard Helicopter. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Debris from the missing Rescue 116 helicopter is brought back to Blacksod pier from another Coast Guard Helicopter. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Similarly, none of the wreckage recovered has shown signs of intense heat or melting, which would have occurred if there had been an on-board electrical or fuel leak fire.

The helicopter is feared to have disintegrated having failed in a landing bid at Black Rock island, some 12km off the Mayo coast, or crashed directly into the sea at the base of steep cliffs.

The fuselage is believed to rest on the seabed at a depth of 40 metres just off Black Rock island. Wreckage was also found on the island.

Aviation and marine officials are baffled as to why no alarms were raised at 1am last Tuesday when the helicopter crashed into the sea.

Jim Murray Mayo Civil Defence prepares to search along the coastline at Annagh Co Mayo for the missing Rescue 116 helicopter and crew with their Matrice 600 Drone.
Photo Steve Humphreys
Jim Murray Mayo Civil Defence prepares to search along the coastline at Annagh Co Mayo for the missing Rescue 116 helicopter and crew with their Matrice 600 Drone. Photo Steve Humphreys

No mayday was received from the vastly experienced crew of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith.

Their last communication - seconds before the helicopter vanished off radar and radio contact - was a routine message that they were minutes from refuelling at Blacksod Bay. No automatic alarms were triggered by the multitude of safety devices on board the S-92A.

The search continues along the coastline for the missing Rescue 116 helicopter and crew.
Photo Steve Humphreys
The search continues along the coastline for the missing Rescue 116 helicopter and crew. Photo Steve Humphreys

"The likelihood is that we will only know precisely what happened when the Multi Purpose Flight Recorder (MPFR) carried by the S-92A is recovered from the wreckage on the seabed," one source said.

The MPFR, or 'black box', will allow AAIU officials to recreate digital details of the last moments of Rescue 116 including its airspeed, altitude, engine power outputs and systems status. Meanwhile, search teams looking for the three crewmen have successfully mapped out a section of water where they believe the aircraft's black box recorder lies.

The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys

But despite a 10-hour operation preparing the 100m by 100m area off Blacksod for a dive and underwater robot operation, large swells expected today could hamper progress.

The operation will be led by Commissioner of Irish Lights (CIL) vessel Granuaile.

The vessel is designed to operate in difficult sea conditions and is also equipped with a heavy-lift crane capable of handling 20 tonnes.

The S-92A is just over half the maximum lift weight of the Granuaile's crane at 12 tonnes.

Granuaile is also equipped with a Remotely Operated Vehicle submersible which, given the difficult and dangerous conditions, will initially be used instead of divers. Irish Coast Guard official Declan Geoghegan said they hoped to make progress over the next 72 hours.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who attended Capt Fitzpatrick's funeral on Saturday, will today visit volunteers and families.

Irish Independent

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