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Mystery surrounds crash at sea as Coast Guard helicopter tragedy 'unlikely to have been caused by mechanical fault'

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Wreckage from the helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier Photo: Steve Humphreys

Wreckage from the helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier Photo: Steve Humphreys

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the crash Photo: Steve Humphreys

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the crash Photo: Steve Humphreys

A Coast Guard helicopter returns to Blacksod, Co Mayo Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

A Coast Guard helicopter returns to Blacksod, Co Mayo Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

PA

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash Photo: Steve Humphreys

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash Photo: Steve Humphreys

A ship helps in the search mission Photo: Colin O'Riordan

A ship helps in the search mission Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

A fisherman looks on disbelief as wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

A fisherman looks on disbelief as wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Helicopter wreckage is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Helicopter wreckage is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

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Wreckage from the helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier Photo: Steve Humphreys

The families of three missing Coast Guard helicopter crew are praying that they will be found after a tragedy that left a "dark cloud over Ireland".

A full-scale search will continue this morning for the members who went missing after the helicopter they were travelling in crashed near Blacksod on the Mayo coast.

Irish Defence Forces' LE Eithne has now also joined the search.

One crew member, Captain Dara Fitzpatrick (45), was recovered early yesterday morning. The experienced pilot was transferred to hospital in a critical condition, but she was later pronounced dead.

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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,

The three other missing people are father-of-three Ciaran Smith (38), from Oldtown in north county Dublin; Mark Duffy, a father-of-two from Co Louth, and experienced winchman Paul Ormsby.

Gary Bohan, from Belmullet, spent yesterday recovering debris in a rigid inflatable boat (rib), following the helicopter crash off the Co Mayo coast in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Rescue 116 and its crew had travelled from Dublin to the west of Ireland to assist another Coast Guard helicopter when the incident occurred at around 1am. Coast Guard sources said there was no evidence that the crew of the stricken helicopter had attempted to send a mayday call. This would suggest that whatever happened, the crash was unlikely to have been caused by a mechanical fault.

But the sources stressed that it was too early in the investigation to speculate on the cause.

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Click here to view full-size graphic

Click here to view full-size graphic

The Dublin-based crew had been providing top cover for another Coast Guard helicopter, Rescue 118, that was performing a medical evacuation off the coast of Mayo.

Rescue 116 was returning to base when it fell out of contact. A search operation got under way and a large amount of debris was found.

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Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Members of the Irish Coast Guard were involved in a search operation to find the three missing men throughout yesterday, and were helped by the RNLI, the Air Corps, the Defence Forces, as well as local fishing vessels.

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A ship helps in the search mission Photo: Colin O'Riordan

A ship helps in the search mission Photo: Colin O'Riordan

Families of the missing crew members gathered at the lighthouse in Blacksod, Co Mayo, shortly after 6pm yesterday, where they met rescue workers involved in the search for their loved ones.

Gerard O'Flynn, VS&T operations manager of the Irish Coast Guard, said that the search would be scaled down overnight and resume this morning.

"The search will continue, albeit at a reduced level. Recovery of debris has been a feature of the search all day, I think you saw a bigger piece come in there and that's all part of your Accident Investigation Unit and will be all taken into storage.

"Unfortunately, with the passage of time, the level of hope does go down - but you never know, pilots are exceptionally well-trained people, they're exceptionally physically fit.

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The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the crash Photo: Steve Humphreys

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the crash Photo: Steve Humphreys

"So you know, you hang on to a thread of hope, but you have to be fearful that with the passage of time that the chances of people surviving is reducing."

He had earlier confirmed that Capt Fitzpatrick had been pronounced dead in hospital. She was one of very few female civilian rescue pilots worldwide.

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The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

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The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

She had more than 20 years' flying experience and was chief pilot in Waterford since 2002. She described her job as "challenging and exciting" during the filming of the 'Rescue 117' documentary for RTÉ. "Dara was the most senior pilot and has been with the company for close on 20 years. For all of us involved in the Coast Guard, and for particularly her family, it has come as a complete shock," Mr O'Flynn said.

Her sister, Niamh Fitzpatrick, also paid tribute. "My brave sister Capt Dara Fitzpatrick lost her life in Rescue 116 crash.

"We are devastated. Please pray for recovery of three remaining crew," Ms Fitzpatrick wrote on social media.

Meanwhile, Mark Dearey, the chairman of Dundalk Municipal District, who knows Mark Duffy and his wider family, said they were "hoping against hope".

In pictures: Rescue mission underway after Coast Guard crash in Mayo Close

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

A Coast Guard Helicopter is refulled at Blacksod Lighthouse today.
PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

A Coast Guard Helicopter is refulled at Blacksod Lighthouse today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The Coast Guard Helicopter Crew at Blacksod Lighthouse this evening. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

A Coast Guard Helicopter lands at Blacksod Lighthouse today.
PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

A Coast Guard Helicopter lands at Blacksod Lighthouse today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

A Coast Guard Pilot pictured with a Helicopter at Blacksod Lighthouse today.
PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

A Coast Guard Pilot pictured with a Helicopter at Blacksod Lighthouse today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

Gerard O'Flynn, Coast Guard, pictured at Blacksod Lighthouse.
PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

Gerard O'Flynn, Coast Guard, pictured at Blacksod Lighthouse. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

Coastguard Personnel pictured loading helicopter debris into a jeep at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet, today.
PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

Coastguard Personnel pictured loading helicopter debris into a jeep at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet, today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

Boatmen pictured landing helicopter debris at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet, today.
PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

Boatmen pictured landing helicopter debris at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet, today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

The Garda Water Unit arriving at Blacksod Lighthouse for the search for the missing crew of The Coast Guard Helicopter.
PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

The Garda Water Unit arriving at Blacksod Lighthouse for the search for the missing crew of The Coast Guard Helicopter. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

Boatmen pictured landing helicopter debris at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet, today.
PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

Boatmen pictured landing helicopter debris at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet, today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

The Garda Water Unit pictured preparing to join the search at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet today.
PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

The Garda Water Unit pictured preparing to join the search at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

Boatmen pictured landing helicopter debris at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet, today.
PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

Boatmen pictured landing helicopter debris at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet, today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

A Coast Guard Helicopter lands at Blacksod Lighthouse today.
PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

A Coast Guard Helicopter lands at Blacksod Lighthouse today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

Boatmen pictured landing helicopter debris at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet, today.
PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

Boatmen pictured landing helicopter debris at Blacksod Lighthouse, Belmullet, today. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

BOATMEN PICTURED LANDING HELICOPTER DEBRIS AT BLACKSOD LIGHTHOUSE TODAY.
PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

BOATMEN PICTURED LANDING HELICOPTER DEBRIS AT BLACKSOD LIGHTHOUSE TODAY. PIC COLIN O'RIORDAN

Coast Guard Members searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Coast Guard Members searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

People watching the lifeboat searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

People watching the lifeboat searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

The lifeboat searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

The lifeboat searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

The Ballyglass lifeboat changing crew to continue the search for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod Pier, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

The Ballyglass lifeboat changing crew to continue the search for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod Pier, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

14/03/2017 The Ballyglass lifeboat changing crew to continue the search for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod Pier, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

14/03/2017 The Ballyglass lifeboat changing crew to continue the search for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod Pier, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Coastguard searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Coastguard searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Coast Guard Members searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Coast Guard Members searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Coast Guard Members searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Coast Guard Members searching for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod lighthouse, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Gardai approaching the Ballyglass lifeboat changing crew to continue the search for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod Pier, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Gardai approaching the Ballyglass lifeboat changing crew to continue the search for a Coast Guard Helicopter Missing at Blacksod Pier, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Helicopter wreckage is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Helicopter wreckage is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

The seach continues at Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash.
Pic Steve Humphreys
14th March 2017

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 Helicopter is brought back to Blacksod Pier after the Coastguard Helicopter crash. Pic Steve Humphreys 14th March 2017

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As the search progressed, the LÉ Róisín carried a large amount of debris to near the coastline, where it was met by smaller trawlers who brought the objects to shore.

However, the recovery of the flight recorders, or the black box, will be crucial to determine what happened.

Speaking in Washington, Taoiseach Enda Kenny extended the "deepest sympathy" of the Government to the family of Capt Fitzpatrick.

Mr Kenny said he knew the area of the Mayo coast where Rescue 116 went down well.

"It is striking that on a bright spring day, such a dark cloud hangs over Ireland," he said.

President Michael D Higgins said: "Today marks a dark day in the history of the Coast Guard."

Irish Independent


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