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Thursday 25 May 2017

Rescue 116 'hit rocks on island' probe finds

Taoiseach Enda Kenny (second from right) pictured this afternoon after visiting the LE Eithne during the search for Rescue 116
Taoiseach Enda Kenny (second from right) pictured this afternoon after visiting the LE Eithne during the search for Rescue 116

Rescue 116 struck rocks before plunging into the sea, an investigation of some of the wreckage has found.

The air accident investigation unit analysing the crash have signalled for the first time that the aircraft is believed to have struck Blackrock Island.

A preliminary examination of wreckage recovered off the island bore marks indicating that the tail and rotor section of the Sikorsky aircraft hit rocks on the western end of the island.

The fuselage of the coastguard helicopter is believed to lie in 40 meters of water directly beneath steep cliffs at the western end of the island.

A team of elite air accident investigation officials were brought by helicopter to the island last week.

They have identified and recovered wreckage involved, however they are yet to pinpoint the exact location of impact.

"There appears to be marks on some of the recovered wreckage which are consistent with the tail of the aircraft contacting rocky surfaces on the Western end of Blackrock," a statement from the Department of Transport said.

"At this early stage in the investigation it is not possible to be definitive about the exact nature of damage to the recovered wreckage or indeed the circumstances of the accident."

Yesterday it emerged that the Rescue 116, underwent a safety and maintenance inspection just three months ago.

The news came as it was confirmed all five of the Sikorsky S-92A helicopters in the Irish Guard Guard fleet were checked in the wake of a service alert issued by the US aviation giant last Christmas.

Sikorsky issued the service notice after an incident involving the same make and model of helicopter in the North Sea.

In that case, an S-92A encountered what were described as "unexpected control responses" during a routine North Sea shuttle flight on December 28.

Emergency

The helicopter made an emergency landing on an oil rig helipad - but the aircraft spun on landing, causing damage to its rotors and also gouging the landing deck. No one was injured in the incident.

In the wake of the emergency landing, Sikorsky issued a notice asking all operators to inspect the tail rotor unit.

All five ICG helicopters were inspected.

The Dublin and Sligo helicopters, both of which were involved in the rescue operation at Blacksod last Tuesday, were in the second batch inspected. The ICG said no issues were raised.

Taoiseach, Enda Kenny pictured with members of the Coastguard involved in the search for Rescue 116
Taoiseach, Enda Kenny pictured with members of the Coastguard involved in the search for Rescue 116

One source said that, while nothing is being ruled out at this stage of the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) probe, it is unlikely the rotor unit was an issue in the loss of Rescue 116.

"In the North Sea case, the helicopter was landed by the flight crew. They were also able to issue an alert over the incident before diverting to a nearby rig helipad for a landing," he said.

In the case of Rescue 116, whatever happened was so catastrophic the flight crew could not issue a mayday call.

The last contact with the ICG helicopter was a transmission that it was preparing to land for refuelling at Blacksod.

Seconds later, Rescue 116 vanished from radar and radio contact. Captain Dara Fitzpatrick was killed and three other crew members Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith remain missing.

Yesterday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny visited Blacksod, where he met with rescue workers involved in the search for the downed coast guard aircraft.

He said the families of the crew of Rescue 116 needed to know what happened to bring closure to the tragedy.

Mr Kenny boarded a rib to the Irish naval vessel Le Eithne, which has been involved in the search since the helicopter went down early last week.

"I would like to say that what we need to find out here is what happened, and there are four families involved in this and they need to know, obviously to bring closure to this," he said.

"But also in respect of the service itself, and the facilities that are provided, to find out the actual facts of how this tragedy occurred," he said.

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