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Wednesday 22 November 2017

Search for R116 crew could be off until weekend

A Coast Guard helicopter takes off at Blacksod Pier. Photo: Steve Humphreys
A Coast Guard helicopter takes off at Blacksod Pier. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Robin Schiller

Weather conditions could force a critical phase in the search for two missing Irish Coast Guard workers to be suspended until the weekend.

It was hoped that flotation devices would be used to raise the wreckage of the Rescue 116 helicopter and allow a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to examine the seabed underneath the aircraft.

Yesterday's challenging spring tides forced the operation to be postponed on the 15th day of searches, with further unfavourable weather forecast for the coming days.

However, investigators have said the situation will be assessed this morning and the "critical phase" of the operation could begin if weather conditions improve.

Search teams managed to partially inflate the flotation device with an air hose, which will slightly tilt the main section of the Sikorsky S-92 wreckage and allow an underwater robot to examine underneath the aircraft.

Winch operator Ciarán Smith (38) and winch man Paul Ormsby (53) have still not been found after their Irish Coast Guard helicopter crashed into Black Rock island off the Mayo coast on the morning of March 14.

Read more: Funeral details for Captain Mark Duffy announced, as search for remaining crew members postponed

Inspector Gary Walshe of the Mayo Garda division said that poor weather conditions, which includes large swells, are expected over the coming days.

"Conditions are still very challenging at the crash site and there is a strong spring tide out there and it has proved too difficult to continue this evening," he said yesterday.

"There was some inflation (of the airbag) done but not enough to secure the objective. So it wasn't successful in that regard, but there is a plan to take that up again tomorrow (today) or when the next window is available."

It comes as the funeral of Capt Mark Duffy (51) will take place in Blackrock, Co Louth tomorrow morning. The father-of-two was freed from the cockpit of the aircraft's wreckage on Sunday morning before being brought to shore. The fourth crew member, Capt Dara Fitzpatrick (45), was recovered but was later pronounced dead.

Irish Independent

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