Updated: 16/03/17 : 05:57:16
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Choppers did carbon copy rescue days earlier

COASTGUARD CHOPPERS linked in Monday night's tragedy completed a carbon copy rescue in the same area just days earlier.

The 118 from Sligo and 116 from Dublin lifted an ill Russian seaman from a vessel 300 kilometres west of Blacksod, Co Mayo on Wednesday March 8th last.

The duties assigned to both Coastguard helicopters on the two occasions were similar.

The earlier rescue also took place in darkness in the early hours of the morning.

Weather conditions were reported to have been similar on both nights as the ''sister ships'' completed their mission.

No Reply

Details have also emerged of some radio communication difficulties between the 116 and 118 choppers in the lead-up to last Monday's tragedy.

The Irish Examiner newspaper said the 116 failed in its attempts to make radio contact the with 118 while it was en route to Mayo.

However, this did not cause concern as communication links between the 118 and air traffic control were clear, it added.

A German cargo plane, Lufthansa airlines, flying overhead at 37,000 feet on Monday night was asked to contact the Sligo 118.

Said the newspaper: ''Despite several attempts to contact Rescue 118, there was no reply.

''This message was relayed to the crew of Rescue 116'' -- still travelling to the scene from its base in Dublin Airport.

Small Craft

The captain and commander of the 116 craft, a Sikorsky S92, lost her life.

She was Captain Dara Fitzpatrick and three of her colleagues remain missing, feared dead.

They are: Ciarán Smith, Paul Ormsby, both winchmen and another pilot, Mark Duffy.

            Captain Dara Fitzpatrick pictured meeting Queen Elizabeth II in May 2014

Weather warnings for small craft, in place Thursday, may restrict the scale of the search operation for the missing trio.

Met Eireann recorded gusts of 32 knots per hour near the search area in its update at 1am this morning, Thursday.

Black Box

Meanwhile accident investigators from the UK are to join the search for the black box from the lost  helicopter. They will bring specialised equipment to assist the operation.

Rescue teams have picked up a signal from a flight recorder.

The Irish chief Air Investigator Jurgen White said: "It's difficult waters - 40 metres of depth. We need to bring in more equipment to locate the recorder. The detection by Marine Institute seabed surveyors from the MV Celtic Voyager, working with smaller vessels, is “hugely significant”, he said, adding, "the hope is that the recorder is with the wreckage".

The heavy lift ship, ILV Granuaile, a multi-functional vessel that can operate in difficult conditions and capable of lifting the main wreckage of the helicopter from the seabed, is currently sailing from Dublin and is expected to on site early tomorrow morning, Friday at 6am. Follow its progress - link below

Asked if there were any plans for safety reasons to ground the fleet of Sikorsky S-92s, provided to the Irish Coast Guard by CHC Helicopter, the Transport Minister Shane Ross said he had “heard absolutely nothing about that whatsoever” and “no suggestion of it”.

CHC said it maintained full confidence in the S-92’s safety and design, and the aircraft was in compliance with all airworthiness directives and alert service bulletins.

Bad Weather

Bad weather could hamper the continuing search for three missing crew members from Coast Guard Rescue 116.

Conditions are too rough to send in divers, and the Coast Guard's Gerard O'Flynn says the forecast is not great.

"The weather outlook is challenging and it does not look good. I would be fearful at this point that it could hamper operations, the forecast is bad through the weekend.

"That is going to be a particular challenge and unfortunately could lead to some delays, but as the day goes by it will be more evident how much progress can be made."

Met Éireann has a small craft warning in place, and heavy swells expected on the west coast at times today.

Link: See Sligo Today 15/3/2017.

Link: Follow the progress of the ILV Granuaile HERE