Updated: 20/04/17 : 06:41:41
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New search underway for missing R116 airmen

Army mountaineers and Garda technical experts have been tasked with undertaking a two-day search of Mayo’s Blackrock Island for missing Rescue 116 airmen Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith.

Garda and Naval Service divers are also returning to the island 13km west of the Mayo coast, where the Irish Coast Guard Sikorsky S-92 helicopter crashed with the loss of four crew on March 14th.

Pilots Capt Dara Fitzpatrick and Capt Mark Duffy were the first two confirmed casualties of the crash.

The Irish Times reports that the team of 10 trained Defence Force mountaineers and several Garda scene of crime examiners will be flown out by the Air Corps on Thursday and will stay overnight to undertake a “360-degree” survey of the sheer rock, marked by a lighthouse.

The combined effort aims to establish if the two winch crew were thrown out of the rear of the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter when it struck the western end of the island, and follow a request for Defence Force assistance from Garda Supt Tony Healy of Belmullet.

The divers will continue a sub-sea inspection of its perimeter from 25m depths up.

In spite of extensive air and sea scans, underwater survey’s and raising the wreckage, there has been no trace of the two men.

Shore searches


Shore searches by the Irish Coast Guard and by Civil Defence teams with drones will also continue over the weekend, Supt Healy said.

Irish Air Line Pilots Association (IALPA) president Capt Evan Cullen expressed serious concern about the quality of the information which the search and rescue pilots had for the flight to the west coast as a “top cover” for a medical evacuation.

A preliminary Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) report on the crash recommended that CHC Ireland, which has the Irish Coast Guard contract, review all route guides used by its helicopters, as it appeared the R116 crew lacked vital information on their pre-programmed route to refuel at Blacksod.

Capt Cullen said the aircraft’s navigational databases were “corrupted” and “inaccurate” and said he has observed one of the databases where Blackrock island was “marked at a height of 46ft, as opposed to the 310ft that it is”.

The AAIU preliminary report refers to a moving map display on the aircraft where “the exact information in relation to Blackrock and lighthouse varied from none, to detailed, depending on the selected map/chart”.

CHC Ireland has said a “review of all route guides in use is well underway” as part of its own “internal action”.

Voice recording

Separately, the AAIU has defended its decision to publish a transcript of the Rescue 116 helicopter’s final cockpit voice recording before it crashed.

The AAIU was responding to criticism by the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA), the European Cockpit Association (ECA) and IALPA.

Capt Cullen said IALPA believed there was “absolutely no justification for – or benefit from – publishing specifically the last two minutes of this flight, other than feeding a thirst for sensationalism.”

“The publication of the information should be on the basis of improving and enhancing flight safety,”Capt Cullen said.

The AAIU said it was satisfied that it had “followed best international practice and national legislation regarding the issuance of the preliminary report”.

It briefed the families of the four crew before the preliminary report was released last Thursday night.

Its final report is expected to take some months to complete.