herald

Friday 18 August 2017

Rescue 116 wreckage probe 'backs theory that its tail hit island'

Search activity around Blackrock
Search activity around Blackrock

A reconstruction of the Rescue 116 helicopter crash supports black box indications that its tail rotor clipped an island as the crew tried to avoid an obstacle not shown on their ground avoidance navigation system.

The wreckage of the Sikorsky S-92A is being painstakingly examined by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) at its Gormanston headquarters.

Ripped

It is expected the process will take several months, but all evidence from the wreckage so far backs the black box indications that therotor was virtually ripped off the helicopter when it clipped a structure on Blackrock Island off Co Mayo.

Out of control, the helicopter stayed aloft for several seconds before plunging into the sea 60 metres from the island.

The extent of the damage is such that the entire wreckage cannot be fully reassembled.

A preliminary analysis has indicated that the US-built helicopter almost avoided disaster in the early hours of March 14 thanks to the desperate reactions of the skilled flight crew, Capt Dara Fitzpatrick and Capt Mark Duffy.

They had swerved and climbed - following a warning from a winchman on board - after it was realised they were flying directly towards Blackrock Island and its steep cliffs as they headed towards Mayo to refuel for their role in a rescue mission.

Their reaction saw the helicopter's main fuselage clear the island, only for its tail, which was in a rotor-down position, to hit the island and shear off.

While the US-built helicopter was equipped with an advanced navigation system - Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) - Blackrock Island was not included in the programmed imagery.

The AAIU last month released the black box voice recordings from Rescue 116 which indicated that the crew received no warning from radar or the EGPWS that they were on a collision course with Blackrock Island.

The final voice recorded warned: "We're gone."

It is hoped the wreckage reconstruction and inputs from US and UK experts will allow the report into the crash to be ready by later this year or early next year.

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