Friday 15 November 2019

'We're gone': final words of tragic Rescue 116 crew

Helicopter system didn't show lighthouse n Pilots desperately tried to avoid Black Rock

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

Jane Last and Robin Schiller

The warning system onboard the tragic Rescue 116 helicopter didn't include data on the island where the helicopter crashed.

The crash off the coast of Co Mayo on March 14 claimed the lives of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, Winchman Paul Ormsby and Winch Operator Ciarán Smith.

The preliminary report into the Coast Guard helicopter crash shows the pilots had just seconds to try to alter their course. Recordings from the helicopter reveal the final words from the crew as the helicopter struck Black Rock were: "We're gone." The crash occurred at about 12.45am.

The initial report of the Air Accident Investigation Unit says the onboard warning system did not have Black Rock island and its lighthouse on its data.

The helicopter flew out near Black Rock before making its approach for the scheduled fuel stop at Blacksod on the mainland and was not aware of the island until it was too late.

The crew did not receive adequate warning signals and were unaware of the obstacle that was before them.

Upon seeing the island and after attempting to make manoeuvres to avoid a collision, the helicopter pitched up.

In the report, in a section on the 'Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System' (EGPWS), it is stated that investigators have been in touch with manufacturers 'Honeywell', who stated: "The lighthouse obstacle is not in the obstacle database and the terrain of the island is not in our terrain database."

A source close to the investigation says this problem with the terrain database is just the "final link in the chain" and other circumstances around the crash are being investigated.

The report also released the transcript from the voice recorder. In the final seconds before the crash, the crew of R116 appeared to know it was too late. The frantic final seconds reveal the pilots attempted to avoid the island by adjusting the course. The crew in the rear of the aircraft are heard to say: "Come right now come right. COME RIGHT."

The helicopter pitches up, and as it strikes the island, Captain Duffy can be heard saying: "We're gone."

Irish Independent

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