Tuesday 24 April 2018

Rescue 116 crash probe to focus on altitude and route

Irish Aviation Authority defends quality of its maps and charts

Irish coast guard: Why the R116 flew the route it did, at the altitude it did, will be the main focus of the investigation
Irish coast guard: Why the R116 flew the route it did, at the altitude it did, will be the main focus of the investigation
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Experts believe the altitude at which Rescue Helicopter 116 was flying and the reason its particular route was selected will be the primary focus of the ongoing crash investigation, despite concerns about warning and mapping systems supplied to Coast Guard crews.

This comes as the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) defended the quality of the charts and maps it produced.

Blackrock, the craggy outcrop where the helicopter crashed 16km off Mayo's coastline, was not included in terrain and obstacle data provided to pilots via third-party companies. Last week, it was reported that software gaps were not corrected four years after they were spotted and reported by pilots.

The IAA said it would be inappropriate to respond to questions that relate to the ongoing investigation into the crash. However, a spokesman for the authority told the Sunday Independent its maps and charts were continuously updated and came with the following warning: "Be informed that while all care and attention was taken in the production of this chart and the information depicted is drawn from the most reliable sources, the IAA makes no warranty to its accuracy or completeness and disclaims all or any liability. The information is useful for orientation, navigation and general visualisation of terrain but it does not guarantee clearance above terrain or man-made obstacles. Users should at all times adhere to visual flight rules and the relevant rules of the air."

He said charts were produced regularly to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards and had been updated as recently as last month.

Fears about IAA mapping and an Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) on the helicopter had grown in recent days, following an RTE Prime Time investigation. However, multiple sources close to the investigation told the Sunday Independent they were concerned to find out why the helicopter was flying at a low altitude. They are also questioning why a route so close to Blackrock was the designated approach to Blacksod Lighthouse, where Rescue 116 was expected to land for fuel before the crash.

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

A preliminary report by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) recommended that CHC Ireland, the private operator running the Coast Guard's search and rescue service, should review and re-evaluate all route guides. The report added that information on obstacle heights, positions, terrain clearance and the EGPWS database should be enhanced.

CHC told the Sunday Independent these recommendations had been "progressed".

"Our aircraft and systems are maintained in accordance with the schedule set by the various manufacturers. The AAIU preliminary report made two recommendations. We have progressed the action allocated to CHC Ireland and supported the manufacturer in progressing the action allocated to them. We remain closely engaged with the AAIU in providing updates on both these issues."

Honeywell, the company that provides CHC with the database software, and the Irish Coast Guard refused to comment on reports while the investigation remained in train. Blackrock was omitted from EGPWS software supplied to CHC by Honeywell.

Last week, RTE's Prime Time reported that pilots had raised concerns about EGPWS and the fact Blackrock was undetected by the software. However, these concerns were not acted on. The AAIU preliminary report said Honeywell's data did not include Blackrock. It was also revealed that data relating to the height of Unesco world heritage site and Star Wars locale Skellig Michael was inaccurately recorded as 56m on official maps instead of 217m.

The IAA provides electronic terrain and obstacle data (ETOD), for use by such companies.

Sunday Independent

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