Saturday 20 January 2018

Skellig Michael data was dangerously inaccurate

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick. Photo: Collins
Captain Dara Fitzpatrick. Photo: Collins

Louise Kelly and Alan O'Keeffe

Nine days after Rescue 116 helicopter tragically hit an island that was not included in its onboard warning system, it was discovered that the aeronautical data relating to Skellig Michael was also dangerously inaccurate.

In a report on RTÉ's 'Prime Time', it emerged that a pilot had flagged the absence of Black Rock from the onboard warning system of Rescue 116 four years ago. The error in the helicopter's system was not corrected.

Captains Mark Duffy (51), and Dara Fitzpatrick (45), winch operator Ciarán Smith (38) and winchman Paul Ormsby (53) died when their Coast Guard helicopter crashed 12km off the Co Mayo coast on March 14.

A preliminary report into the fatal crash of the aircraft released in April found the vital omission in the aircraft's onboard warning system.

In the report, the Air Accident Investigation Unit said that its initial inquiries have found that an Enhanced Ground Positioning Warning System (EGPW) did not have the 'lighthouse obstacle' included in its database and that 'the terrain of the island' was not listed either.

Nine days later, it emerged that a map of Skellig Michael was also inaccurate.

A revised map of Skellig Michael was issued last month which increased the height of the island from just 174 feet high to its true height of 712ft.

Up until March 24, the official Aviation Authority aeronautical map registered the height of the lighthouse on the island as the site's highest point.

A chain of emails had been exchanged between Sligo base Coast Guard pilots and a senior manager with CHC Ireland, the private operator which runs the Coast Guard's Search and Rescue service.

CHC Ireland won a 10-year €500m contract to provide the service in 2012.

In the email exchange, reference is made to Black Rock island and/or other omissions in the EGPW in 2013.

According to a source quoted in the report, Coast Guard personnel were told at a meeting in April that management was trying to establish if this information had been passed on to the company that supplied the database for its system.

The Irish Aviation Authority's State Safety Plan - which provides terrain and obstacle data for use by database suppliers - said that "Black Rock island was not shown as it does not constitute an obstacle under ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) Standards".

Irish Independent

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