Tuesday 20 March 2018

Operation to recover Rescue 116 wreckage postponed due to 'deteriorating weather'

Family members or Rescue 116 missing crewmembers look on as an Irish Coast Guard Helicopter takes off at Blacksod Pier .
Pic Steve Humphreys
Family members or Rescue 116 missing crewmembers look on as an Irish Coast Guard Helicopter takes off at Blacksod Pier . Pic Steve Humphreys
Flowers left for the victims of the R116 helicopter crash at Blacksod, Co Mayo Picture: Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Robin Schiller

An operation to raise the wreckage of the Rescue 116 helicopter to search for two missing Irish Coast Guard members has been cancelled due to deteriorating weather.

It was hoped that search teams could examine underneath the aircraft's wreckage but spring tides have forced rescue workers to postpone the operation.

It is now planned to take place tomorrow morning, weather dependant, while an ROV will also be unable to operate tonight due to the challenging conditions. 

It is hoped that winch operator Ciaran Smith (38) and winch man Paul Ormsby (53) can be located in or near the Sikorsky S-92 wreckage.

However, if dive teams are unable to recover the two Irish Coast Guard members then the search area will be expanded with the assistance of divers from the Garda Water Unit.

Debris from the aircraft have been recovered as far north as Killybegs, Co Donegal but investigators said that the hope is that the missing men are still with the wreckage of Rescue 116.

Supt Tony Healy said that sea conditions caused delays to the flotation device being deployed.

"This morning the Garda underwater divers conducted a number of underwater searches and covered a large area peripheral to the crash site itself underwater.

"Currently the navy divers are operating the lifting bag to lift the wreckage slightly off the seabed to inspect under the wreck itself. That's ongoing as we speak. There was a number of delays this morning in relation to the flotation device and the flow of water there. There's an immense flow of water at this time of the year when there are spring tides," Supt Healy said.

"That means there's three times the amount of water flowing through that channel than there normally would be. The conditions are hugely challenging for the divers at present.

"We're talking about the next hour or two that we should have that operation concluded

"It will take a visual inspection once the wreck has been lifted to inspect what is under that portion of the wreck.

Gerard O'Flynn, incident manager with the Irish Coast Guard said that further searches had been conducted off the Donegal coastline where debris from the aircraft had been located, but stated that nothing more of significance had been found.

"Again we did some searches along the north Donegal coast, east of Killybegs on the basis that debris has been found on that shore and just to see if there were reasons to justify a more intensive search in that area so that was the basis of that search. Nothing (more) of significance has been recovered.

"The visual inspection will be conducted by the ROV, the preparation work was conducted by navy divers so depending on how's it goes- as we're speaking this is ongoing- so I don't know what particular complications they are encountering. They may have to dive, they may not have to dive. It depends on how this work progresses as we speak right now," Mr O'Flynn said.

He added that rescue workers were motivated by the desire to find their missing colleagues and by the local community on what is day 15 of the intense and arduous search operation.

"I think people are motivated by he desire to assist. I think they're very conscious of the families being here. There is huge sympathies for the families, obviously were coming up to the second funeral on Thursday.

"Everybody is motivated by the desire to remain committed and you can see this huge community support. So motivation comes pretty easy in situation like this and particularly volunteers deserve tremendous credit for the commitment that they are making."

Weather conditions previously hampered the airbags being inflated, but rescue workers managed to insert the devices yesterday evening.

Operations were due to begin last night to slightly raise the aircraft's main section off the seabed with the help of flotation devices.

Winch operator Ciarán Smith (38) and winch man Paul Ormsby (53) have still not been found after their Sikorsky S-92 helicopter crashed at Black Rock island off the Mayo coast in the early hours of March 14.

The body of their colleague, Capt Mark Duffy (51), was brought to shore on Sunday afternoon. Naval Service divers recovered the body from the cockpit of the helicopter wreckage. A post-mortem examination was carried out by the State Pathologist yesterday morning and Capt Duffy's remains were returned to Co Louth ahead of his funeral on Thursday morning at St Oliver Plunkett Church, Blackrock.

The fourth crew member, Capt Dara Fitzpatrick (45), was found by an RNLI lifeboat, but was later pronounced dead in hospital.

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