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Monday 23 September 2019

Rescue 116 crash: 'Serious' concerns raised about navigation maps, equipment and life-jackets

  • Repeated warnings that the life jackets were not fit for purpose
  • Helicopter moving maps 'blurred and unreadable'
  • Incorrect details about Black Rock Island on ipad under trial 
  • Lighthouses and islands incorrectly depicted on latest Aviation Authority maps
  • Newly issued aeronautical maps have Fastnet Rock moved further out to sea than its actual location
  • Confusion over who is ultimately responsible for safety oversight of Search and Rescue helicopter operations

Alan O'Keeffe

Further serious concerns have been raised about navigation maps, equipment, and life-jacket beacons on the R116 Coastguard helicopter which crashed last March.

RTÉ’s Prime Time programme revealed new information about inadequate maps and equipment in a report by journalist Kathy Hannon.

A previous report by the programme makers highlighted the absence of crucial mapping information about Blackrock Island which the helicopter struck with fatal consequences. The crash killed all four people on board.

A moving map system used by the pilots showed Blackrock with the correct height. However the map is blurred at some settings and when zoomed in to a close range the actual height of the island is hidden behind the location code.

It also emerged that a few weeks before the accident, coast guard pilots began testing a new electronic mapping system which was uploaded on to a mini ipad and strapped to the pilots’ knee boards.

RTÉ Prime Time established that both pilots on Rescue 116 took these ipads on board on the night of the crash. This map was not approved for use as it was still on trial. It showed Black Rock island at 46 ft. In reality it is 282 ft at its highest point.

RTÉ Prime Time revealed that search and rescue crews had been complaining about poor quality maps and navigation equipment for months before the crash.

An employee for the company that operates the helicopter service told the programme Coast Guard pilots are still flying with blurred maps.

It also reported that official aeronautical maps produced by the Irish Aviation Authority contain a number of significant errors.

After Rescue 116 crashed, the Irish Aviation Authority was informed that Skellig Michael was depicted incorrectly on their maps. The Authority told RTÉ Prime Time last July that following the discovery of this error ‘a review of all other coastal islands was conducted and their data verified. No further anomalies of substance were found.’

However, tonight's programme stated there are still other substantial anomalies. Achill Island is depicted in the official aeronautical quarter inch map with no contours or tinting to indicate high ground. In fact Achill Island has two peaks that are over 2200ft high.

A recreational pilots’ association contacted the Irish Aviation Authority to outline this error and a number of other inaccuracies last May, saying pilots should be urgently warned about the potential hazards.

The Aviation Authority’s Director of Safety Regulation responded that their inspectors had evaluated all of the specific details that were outlined and had determined that ‘none of these issues affect the safety of any VFR operations.’

Since then new maps have been published. They contain the errors the IAA had been alerted to as well as a number of new errors, stated the report.

Inishtarraght Island off the Kerry coast appears on the chart to have a highest point of 276 ft. It is 660 ft at its highest point.

The Irish Aviation Authority, which has responsibility for the production of these maps, declined to comment due to the on going AAIU investigation into the Rescue 116 crash.

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