Tuesday 21 November 2017

Pilot flagged absence of Black Rock from Rescue 116 warning system four years ago

Data relating to Skellig Michael height was also dangerously inaccurate

The four Coast Guard members on board Rescue 116: Dara Fitzpatrick, Paul Ormsby, Mark Duffy and Ciarán Smith
The four Coast Guard members on board Rescue 116: Dara Fitzpatrick, Paul Ormsby, Mark Duffy and Ciarán Smith
Louise Kelly

Louise Kelly

A pilot had flagged the absence of Black Rock from the onboard warning system of Rescue 116 four years ago, new revelations have emerged.

According to an RTE Prime Time report, the error in the helicopter's system was not corrected despite the company learning about the potentially lethal danger.

Captains Mark Duffy (51), Captain Dara Fitzpatrick (45), winch operator Ciarán Smith (38) and winchman Paul Ormsby (53) died when their Coast Guard helicopter crashed 12km off the Co Mayo coast on March 14.

The report also revealed that nine days after the tragic crash, it was discovered that the aeronautical data relating to Skellig Michael was also dangerously inaccurate.

A preliminary report into fatal crash of Coast Guard Rescue helicopter 116 released in April found the vital omission in the aircraft's onboard warning system.

In the report, the Air Accident Investigation Unit said that its initial inquiries have found that an Enhanced Ground Positioning Warning System (EGPW) did not have the 'lighthouse obstacle' included in its database and that 'the terrain of the island' was not listed either.

Read more: Widow of heroic Rescue 116 Captain Mark Duffy sends heartfelt thanks to the public

The Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue service is run by a private operator, CHC Ireland, a subsidiary of global helicopter services provider based in Canada. It won a 10 year €500m contract to provide the service in 2012.

Six months after the tragedy, Prime Time has now revealed there was a chain of emails between Sligo base Coast Guard pilots and a senior CHC manager referring to Black Rock Island and/or other omissions in the EGPWS in 2013.

According to source quoted in the report, Coast Guard personnel were told at a meeting in April that management was trying to establish if this information had been passed on to the company that supplied the database for their system.

That company, Honeywell, told RTÉ Prime Time that they could not comment on an ongoing investigation. "Until that investigation is complete, any inferences or conclusions drawn at this time would simply be speculation."

The Irish Aviation Authority’s State Safety Plan - which provides terrain and obstacle data for use by database suppliers - said that "Black Rock Island was not shown as it does not constitute an obstacle under ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) Standards". The lighthouse was shown but there was no indication that it was located on an island with a highest point of 282 feet.

The Authority said it has no record that it was advised that Black Rock Island was not in the Coast Guard’s EGPWS system. It also confirmed to Prime Time that it only learned that Skellig Michael was inaccurately depicted on their official maps nine days after the Rescue 116 crash.

A revised map was issued last month which increased Skellig Michael from just 174 feet high to its true height of 712ft.

Online Editors

Promoted Links

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News