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Friday 17 January 2020

R116 tail 'hit rocks' as Kenny says the crew's families need answers

Taoiseach Enda Kenny hugs a member of the Civil Defence alongside members of the Coast Guard during a visit to Blacksod in Co Mayo. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Enda Kenny hugs a member of the Civil Defence alongside members of the Coast Guard during a visit to Blacksod in Co Mayo. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Luke Byrne and Paul Williams

Investigators probing the crash of the Rescue 116 helicopter have signalled wreckage from the aircraft shows marks "consistent with the tail" hitting rocky surfaces on Blackrock Island.

The air accident investigation unit said a preliminary examination indicated that the tail and rotor section of the Sikorsky aircraft shows signs that it struck rocks on the western end of the island.

The fuselage of the coastguard helicopter is believed to lie in 40 metres of water directly beneath steep cliffs at the western end of the island.

A team of elite air accident investigation officials was brought by helicopter to the island last week. Since arriving it has identified and recovered wreckage involved however it has yet to pinpoint the exact location of impact.

Last night the Department of Transport released a statement, which read: "There appears to be marks on some of the recovered wreckage which are consistent with the tail of the aircraft contacting rocky surfaces on the Western end of Blackrock.

"At this early stage in the investigation it is not possible to be definitive about the exact nature of damage to the recovered wreckage or indeed the circumstances of the accident."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny visited the mission at Blacksod, Co Mayo, yesterday and said the families of the crew need answers as it emerged a submersible vehicle or divers could be sent into the 40m deep ocean later in the week.

"What we need now to find out here is what happened," Mr Kenny said. "There are four families involved in this. They need to know, obviously to bring closure to this, but also in respect of the service itself and the facilities that are provided, to find out the actual facts of how this tragedy occurred."

The Commissioner of Irish Lights vessel ILV Granuaile has stood in the bay ready to be deployed as soon as weather permits. Searches along the coast continued, but a spokesman for the Coast Guard confirmed no dive attempt could be made yesterday.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick's remains were recovered last week, but the other three members of the vastly experienced crew, Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith, remain missing.

Meanwhile there are concerns the shortage of highly trained pilots and other specialist officers across the Defence Forces will continue for several years. The pilot staffing crisis in the Air Corps was exposed last week in the wake of the Rescue 116 tragedy when it was revealed an initial request for assistance from a maritime aircraft had been turned down due to a lack of ground and air crews. The Casa CN235 had been asked to provide top cover for a rescue operation involving the Sligo-based Coast Guard helicopter off the Mayo coast. When it was unavailable the doomed Rescue 116 was dispatched from Dublin instead.

Writing in the Irish Independent today, retired Brigadier General Ger Aherne says claims that 28 Air Corps cadets are currently in training, with eight due to graduate in the last quarter of this year, were effectively disingenuous. "The truth is none of these eight trainees will be qualified to even act as co-pilots of a helicopter or a fixed wing Casa in an Air Corps operational Wing until the summer of 2019, at the earliest."

This follow a 'Sunday Independent' investigation which laid bare an unprecedented crisis of personnel and resources in the Army, Navy and Air Corps. An average of between 50 and 60 enlisted personnel are leaving the Defence Forces each month and over 12pc of all officers have left in the past three years.

Irish Independent

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