Sunday 16 December 2018

Rescue 116 crash: Concerns raised about Coast Guard life jackets in 2011 - report

The rocky shoreline of Blackrock Picture: Steve Humphreys Newsdesk Newsdesk

Concerns about life jackets used by Coast Guard personnel were raised as far back as 2011 it has emerged.

RTE Prime Time is due to broadcast a special report into concerns raised to CHC Ireland who operate the Coast Guard helicopters.

The report comes after four crew members on board Rescue 116 died when the helicopter crashed into Blackrock Island, off the Co Mayo coast in March.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and winch man Ciarán Smith all died in the crash. The bodies of the winchmen have sadly not yet been recovered.

According to documents seen by the programme concerns were raised repeatedly about locator beacons on the life jackets which were not installed according to the manufacturer's guidelines.

The beacon manufacturer advised that the beacon should be located at least 30cm apart from the GPS antenna. However, in the pilots' life jackets both elements were in the same pouch.

A safety report filed by a crew member in 2014 stated: "Effectively this means that the beacon could produce absolutely zero receivable transmissions."

The close proximity of the beacon and the GPS was noted in a preliminary report issued by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) and a safety recommendation was made to the life jacket manufacturer to review the installation of the equipment.

r116 (INT_ED5_S01) (Read-Only).jpg
The rocky shoreline of Blackrock Picture: Steve Humphreys

The locator beacons of the four casualaties of Rescue 116 did not activate in the wake of the catastrophic crash.

A test carried out two months after the crash found that jackets worn by pilots failed to activate, while the ones worn by the winchmen did.

CHCH immediately withdrew the life jackets concerned from service according to RTE.

In a statement to the broadcaster CHC Ireland said:

"Given that the Rescue 116 accident continues to be the subject of a formal investigation ... it would be inappropriate for us to respond to specific questions of a technical nature.

"CHC is subject to oversight and regular independent audit by the Irish Aviation Authority, as well as audits undertaken on behalf of the customer - the Irish Coastguard."

The life jacket manufacturer Beaufort Ltd also said it was aware of the findings of the preliminary AAIU report but said it could not comment further until the investigation is complete.

Tonight's report is also expected to highlight concerns raised by Coast Guard helicopter crews about the accuracy of their mapping systems.

  • RTE Prime Time airs tonight at 9.35pm on RTE One

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