Updated: 14/07/17 : 04:32:27
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Sligo 'copter crew flagged fatal flaws four years ago

Special Report

SLIGO COASTGUARD flagged up flaws four years ago which recently proved fatal re early warning of ground hazards for service helicopters.

The flaws and Sligo's role in finding them in 2013 was revealed by RTÉ's Prime Time last night, Thursday.

The show utilised the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act to discover documents.

Prime Time has now revealed that, shortly after CHC Ireland got the contract to provide four Sikorsky stationed nationwide practice flight runs took place.

Warning Omissions

The programme obtained emails between Sligo-based Coastguard pilots and a senior CHC manager.

These emails referred in 2013 specifically to Blackrock Island and/or other omissions in the Emergency Ground Position Warning System (EGPWS).

Six weeks after the recent crash, Coastguard pilots were told by CHC Ireland it was trying to establish if this info had (ever) been passed on to the company that supplied the database for their system.

Nine days after the Rescue 116 crashed, Irish aviation authorities learned that Skellig Michael, off Kerry, was inaccurately depicted on official maps. 

Skellig -- used in recent Star War films -- grew in height to 712ft, from an original (inaccurate) height of 174ft when new maps were issued last month by Irish aviation authorities.

No Record

Irish aviation authorities have no record, said Prime Time, of ever having been told Blackrock Island was not in the Coastguards's emergency ground position warning system (EGPWS).

Crucially, the EGPWS is not relied on for actual craft navigation; it is a hazard warning system and a route guide.

Not all documents requested were released to Prime Time due to the ongoing investigation into the R116 crash which claimed four lives off Mayo last March.

The R116 was acting as 'top cover,' providing communications, for the R118 Sligo based Sikorsky S-92 Coastguard 'copter when it crashed shortly after 1am

The Sligo Sikorsky had successfully responded to a distress call from a UK registered fishing vessel about 250km off the coast.

The four lives lost were all aboard the R116: Captain Dara Fitzpatrick and her co-pilot, Capt Mark Duffy, winch operator Paul Ormsby and winchman Ciarán Smith.

Extensive searches at sea have failed to locate the bodies of Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith.

Preliminary reports into that accident have confirmed earlier Prime Time reports on causes which might have contributed to the catastrophe.

Not marked on the inflight warning system of ground hazards was the height at Blackrock Island.

This island was over 280 feet and also nearby the approach for the R116 Sikorsky's planned refuel stop at Blacksod Lighthouse.

Prime Time confirmed that, shortly after CHC Ireland got the contract to provide four Sikorsky stationed nationwide practice flight runs took place.

During these practice flights, records now reveal, the Sligo R118 Sikorsky identified hazards NOT on the 'copters inflight data system.

Phantom Hazards

Blackrock island off north Mayo, which the R116 helicopter collided with, does not constitute an obstacle, Irish aviation authorities confirmed to Prime Time.

Under International Civil Organisation Standards, it was not deemed an obstacle -- said the RTÉ show -- since its height was under 90 metres.

The programme also revealed that 'phantom hazards' -- hazards which do not exist at all -- were identified on warning systems.

Coastguard pilots based in Dublin noted for some time that the EGPWS fitted to the Sikorsky S-92 helicopters was alerting them to “phantom” obstacles on the east coast.