herald

Sunday 20 August 2017

Hope for families of missing crew as 116's 'main section' is located

Families of the Rescue 116 crew return to Blacksod Pier after being brought to the scene of the crash at Blackrock Lighthouse on board the LE Eithne.
Families of the Rescue 116 crew return to Blacksod Pier after being brought to the scene of the crash at Blackrock Lighthouse on board the LE Eithne.

The families of Rescue 116's missing crew have been given hope that their loved ones' remains will be recovered.

A Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) has confirmed the position of the submerged "main section" of the aircraft.

A search for the missing crew is expected to be carried out soon, with a strong possibility of establishing the three missing men are in the wreckage.

A significant portion of the remains of the Irish Coast Guard helicopter was discovered on the seabed roughly 12km off the Mayo coast.

Either the ROV or a dive team will examine the wreckage more closely.

It was discovered some 60m from Blackrock island, where investigators believe the helicopter struck rocks on the western section before crashing into the sea.

Robot

The underwater robot was deployed from the Commissioner of Irish Lights vessel, the Granuaile.

During the course of the operation it located what search teams believe is the body of the Rescue 116 helicopter.

The discovery was described as a "significant development" on what was the eighth day of the massive search operation.

Investigators stressed it has not yet been established if the three missing crewmen - Mark Duffy, Ciaran Smith and Paul Ormsby - are with the wreckage.

The aircraft's experienced pilot, Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, was recovered from the sea last Tuesday but later pronounced dead.

Supt Tony Healy, of Belmullet Garda Station, said that the location searched was close to where the signal of the aircraft's "black box" flight recorder was detected.

"A Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle from the Granuaile conducted an operation on the seabed where we located parts of Rescue 116.

"We're actively assessing what we found at the moment. This is a hugely significant step in the ongoing process of the recovery of the crew of Rescue 116.

"We've found parts of the helicopter that we can identify," Supt Healy said.

Senior investigators have said the primary focus of the operation is the recovery of the crew.

Jurgen Whyte, chief inspector with the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU), added it is the "absolute hope" that the three missing Coast Guard workers are with the helicopter wreckage.

"It's hugely positive, we could hear the beacon, we were homing in on the beacon and the proof in the pie is we have located the main part of the wreckage which is the helicopter itself.

Weather

"We have the wreckage so it's just a matter of getting the weather window to get the ROV down, work our way through the wreckage and hopefully we will be able to recover the crew," Mr Whyte said.

"The priority has always been the recovery of the crew members, the recorder and then possibly the recovery of the wreckage.

"Please God if we're successful in recovering the three crew members we will focus our attention on the recorder.

"Depending on what we hear from the recording we will recover some, parts or all of the wreckage," the senior investigator added.

Relatives of all four crew members were yesterday taken aboard the LE Eithne navy ship, which then took them towards the Blackrock island.

A garda family liaison officer has been in constant contact with the families, who are being routinely briefed on any developments in relation to the search operation and investigation.

Shoreline and air searches have continued throughout the week.

A 13-man Naval Service dive team is also on standby should they be required.

Divers from the Garda Water Unit have also been stationed at the Blacksod lighthouse.

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