herald

Monday 27 March 2017

Dive team must wait to search for bodies of rescue 116 victims

Search vessels look for wreckage from Rescue 116
Search vessels look for wreckage from Rescue 116

Divers are hoping to carry out a search for the wreckage of Rescue 116 and its three missing crew members on Sunday.

The news came as it emerged that investigators in Blacksod, Co Mayo, had found no indication that the helicopter flew into Blackrock Lighthouse, which is 12km west of Blacksod and the last known location of Rescue 116.

Funeral details were ann-ounced yesterday for Capt Dara Fitzpatrick (45), who was recovered on Tuesday morning but later pronounced dead.

The search operation yesterday focused on the lighthouse, close to the area where the Sikorsky helicopter's black box has been located.

Members of the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) and their British colleagues were airlifted on to the island to carry out an inspection and locate any debris.

Evidence

A senior source said they had found pieces of wreckage, but there was no indication that Rescue 116 had hit the rock on which the lighthouse sits.

"The wreckage recovered may have washed up on the rock from the sea. There is, as of yet, no evidence that the helicopter collided on Blackrock," the source said.

Co-pilot Mark Duffy and winchmen Ciaran Smith and Paul Ormsby have still not been found after Rescue 116 lost communication shortly before 1am on Tuesday.

Derek Geoghegan, of the Irish Coast Guard, said a window of good weather was para- mount for sonar scanning and for a dive to be carried out.

The next such window is expected on Sunday afternoon.

Kevin Houston of the Civil Defence Drone Service and Jim Murray of Mayo Civil Defence prepare to search the coastline
Kevin Houston of the Civil Defence Drone Service and Jim Murray of Mayo Civil Defence prepare to search the coastline

"We're going to clear the debris first," said Mr Geogh- egan. "With the weather window we've established we're going to go straight in with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) or a naval dive team once we've established where the black box is, that the wreckage is there and hopefully that our colleagues are with that wreckage.

"We have identified a weather window of three to four hours on Sunday afternoon."

Mr Geoghegan said coast guard personnel would clear the area just off Blackrock of obstacles before beginning a detailed search of the area.

"The preparatory work, we'll have to do a lot of that this evening and tomorrow," he added.

"There will be a scheduling of the vessels going in. It's about 100 metres from the rock.

"When you're working in there with a huge swell, there's obviously a danger to the person, we would say."

Missing crew member Paul Ormsby
Missing crew member Paul Ormsby

A relative of Mr Duffy, a father-of-two from Blackrock, Co Louth, paid tribute to the heroic co-pilot.

"I woke up early on Tuesday, turned on the radio and found out what happened. I hopped in the car and came straight up here," said Ben Ronayne.

"It's disbelief. None of us have been able to get over it yet, it's still a shock. It's not real. It doesn't seem real at all.

"Mark was a fantastic guy. He just had a persona about him. He was an absolute fantastic father and brilliant husband to my cousin.

"The waiting is the biggest problem now. It's the hardest thing that the families have to deal with.

"The families have been so well looked after up here."

The ILV Granuaile - a multi- functional vessel that can oper- ate in difficult conditions - was expected to arrive at Blackrock in the early hours of this morning.

It will carry out an under- water sonar-scan, which is expected to take about an hour, once the weather improves.

Funeral

When the exact location of the black box has been verified, an ROV or a naval dive team will inspect the wreckage.

As conditions are expected to deteriorate today and tomorrow, this phase of the search operation is expected to take place between 12pm and 3pm on Sunday.

The funeral of Capt Fitzpatrick, who along with the three missing men saved the lives of scores of people over her distinguished career, will take place tomorrow.

The mass for the mum-of-one will be held at 11am in St Patrick's Church, Glencullen.

The families of the missing crew are being supported by the agencies involved in the search for their loved ones as well as the local community.

Gda Supt Tony Healy said: "They're being kept fully up to date with any developments.

"They're coping as best as any family could in these circumstances."

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