Thursday 19 July 2018

'Thorough review' of all search and rescue operations in Ireland recommended in Rescue 116 crash interim report

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

Robin Schiller

An interim report into the Rescue 116 helicopter crash has recommended that the Minister for Transport carry out a "thorough review" of all search and rescue operations in Ireland.

The report, which was released today just over a year after the tragedy, also found there were anomalies in the helicopter company's Flight Data Recorders (FDR) used to measure latitude and longitude.

The findings were compiled by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) who have carried out a thorough inquiry into the helicopter crash, which claimed the lives of four Irish Coast Guard members.

Dara Fitzpatrick, Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and Ciaran Smith died after their Sikorsky S-92 aircraft collided into Black Rock Island on March 14, 2017.

The AAIU established from the Flight Data Recorder recovered that, while latitude and longitude position information was generally consistent with the expected flight path, it "appeared to contain anomalies".

Investigators have recommended that the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation make necessary updates and modifications to the S-92A helicopter "to ensure that the latitude and longitude information recorded on the Flight Data Recorder reflects the most accurate position information available during all flight regimes and mission profiles."

Rescue 116 had a warning system for low altitude but that did not include information for the terrain around Black Rock island
Rescue 116 had a warning system for low altitude but that did not include information for the terrain around Black Rock island

The AAIU has also called for greater clarity regarding the individual and collective responsibilities for oversight of Search and Rescue (SAR) aviation operations in Ireland.

Investigators also believe that a review should be carried out by Transport Minister Shane Ross of all search and rescue operations.

"The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, as the issuing authority for the Irish National Maritime Search and Rescue Framework, should carry out a thorough review of SAR aviation operations in Ireland to ensure that there are appropriate processes, resources and personnel in place to provide effective, continuous, comprehensive and independent oversight of all aspects of these operations," the investigation team, headed by chief inspector Jurgen Whyte stated.

A preliminary report published in April of last year examined the circumstances surrounding the crash.

It recommended that RFD Beaufort Ltd, who supply lifejackets for crew members, should review the viability of the installation provisions and instructions for locater beacons on Mk 44 lifejackets.

On March 8 the company told investigators that modifications to lifejackets had been made in this regard and that the changes are being validated through a trial.

Family and local people attend a candlelit vigil for the crew of Rescue 116 near Glosh Tower close to Blacksod at 12.46am
Photo: Steve Humphreys
Family and local people attend a candlelit vigil for the crew of Rescue 116 near Glosh Tower close to Blacksod at 12.46am Photo: Steve Humphreys

A critical observation also made by the AAIU in its preliminary report was that CHC Ireland should review and re-evaluate all route guides in use by its SAR helicopters in Ireland.

This recommendation was made after it emerged that Black Rock island, the remote island with which the coast guard' helicopter collided, was not on a route guide being used by the crew.

CHC said that a review of all routes in the CHCI route guide was conducted between April and June 2017 culminating in a general communication sent to all staff by email on the 4th July 2017.

The aircraft operator further advised on March 12 that the route guide has been reviewed and re-evaluated in line with the Safety Recommendation contained within the Preliminary Report.

Transport Minister Shane Ross welcomed the publication of the report and said he will ensure the recommended reviews are carried out.

Minister Ross, who has responsibility for the Coast Guard, said in a statement: "The recommendation addressed to me in the AAIU’s interim statement calls for a thorough review of the current arrangements in place to oversee SAR aviation operations. 

"I have asked my officials to make arrangements to ensure that this review is instigated without delay. 

Blackrock Island where Rescue 116 crashed killling four crew members. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Blackrock Island where Rescue 116 crashed killling four crew members. Photo: Steve Humphreys

"This review will be carried out by an external party and it will take account of the previous and on-going work cited in the AAIU report in relation to the SAR aviation oversight.

"The aim of this review will be to ensure that our arrangements in this regard are sufficiently robust and measure up to international best practice models. "

He continued to say that he is not in a position to comment further on the ongoing investigation into the tragedy.

Minister Ross said: "I feel it important to emphasise that the AAIU’s investigation continues. It is charged under domestic law and international obligations with examining all relevant issues it determines are pertinent to the accident it is investigating.

"Whilst I understand the on-going public interest in this matter, it is vital that the AAIU is given the time and space to complete its work and report on its findings."

On Wednesday a number of memorial services took place on the Mullet peninsula involving family and loved ones of the crew to mark the one year anniversary of the tragedy.

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