Updated: 17/07/17 : 06:20:40
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New five-day search underway for missing R116 airmen

A fresh underwater search for two missing Irish Coast Guard airmen is under way off the north Mayo coast, with plans for a series of trawls by a Donegal fishing vessel around Blackrock island.

Killybegs fishing vessel MFV Westbound conducted trials on Sunday with the “bespoke” net which will be used to search areas on the north side of the rock 13km west of the Mullet peninsula – weather permitting.

The Irish Times reports that winch crew Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith are now four months missing, since their Sikorsky S-92 helicopter crashed off Blackrock island, claiming the lives of the two men and colleagues Capt Dara Fitzpatrick and Capt Mark Duffy.

Supt Healy said that Sunday’s survey and trial work “went well”, and the plan is for five days of trawling if conditions allow.

Garda Water Unit divers will be on board the vessel, and Irish Coast Guard units are on standby for further targeted shore scans.

CHC Ireland, which runs the Irish Coast Guard fleet, is sponsoring the effort which is being co-ordinated by Malin Head Coast Guard.

Modified gear

The 16-metre MFV Westbound has been fitted with specially modified gear donated by the international netmakers Swan Net-Gundry of Killybegs. Fishermen in the area have been asked to provide co-ordinates of their gear which is set all around Blackrock island.

The Irish Lights ship Granuaile is due to return next weekend with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), which will focus on “areas of interest” identified in the trawling, Supt Healy said.

The Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) said the planned operation was a matter for the Garda, as it related to “the continued search for the two missing crew members and the gathering of evidence”.

An AAIU spokesman said it remained on standby to assist the Garda if so required.

“Later in the week, there may be opportunities to conduct ROV operations which the AAIU will attend, and if, during the search, opportunities arise to list specific items of wreckage, the AAIU will do so,” the spokesman said.

The AAIU has ruled out mechanical failure of the helicopter in its preliminary inquiry, and has recovered the main sector of the helicopter from the seabed. The separate Garda investigation is still continuing.


It is understood that one engine which is believed to be still on the seabed may be recovered.

The Irish Coast Guard Sligo-based rescue 118 helicopter may also assist, Supt Healy said.

Supt Healy said the work would focus on areas which the ROV and Naval Service, Garda and club divers may not have been able to reach in previous searches due to weather and constant swell around the rock.

Since the State’s official effort was scaled down, fishing vessels along the Atlantic seaboard and some 180 club divers have participated in two large-scale co-ordinated searches at sea.

A small amount of debris is continuing to be found, including part of a stretcher from the aircraft and there had been targeted walks of the shoreline by volunteers over many weekends.