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Thursday 23 November 2017

Bid to raise Rescue 116 wreckage may be delayed until the weekend

Coast Guard Rescue 116 Search continues at Blacksod, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus
Coast Guard Rescue 116 Search continues at Blacksod, Belmullet, Co. Mayo. Photo : Keith Heneghan / Phocus

Weather conditions could force a critical phase in the search for two missing Irish Coast Guard workers to be delayed until the weekend.

It was hoped flotation devices could be used to raise the wreckage of Rescue 116 and allow a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to examine the seabed underneath the helicopter.

Yesterday's challenging spring tides forced the operation to be postponed on the 15th day of searches, with further unfavourable weather forecast for the coming days.

However, investigators have said that the situation will be assessed this morning and the "critical phase" of the operation could commence if weather conditions improve.

Search teams managed to partially inflate the flotation device with an air hose, which will slightly tilt the main section of the Sikorsky S-92 wreckage and allow an underwater robot to examine underneath the aircraft.

Winch operator Ciaran Smith (38) and winch man Paul Ormsby (53) have still not been located after their Irish Coast Guard helicopter collided with Blackrock island off the Mayo coast on the morning of March 14.

Challenging

Inspector Gary Walsh, of the Mayo Garda Division, said that poor weather conditions, including large swells, are expected over the coming days.

"Conditions are still very challenging at the crash site, there is a strong Spring tide out there and it has proved too difficult to continue this evening," he said last night.

"There was some inflation [of the airbag] done but not enough to secure the objective today.

"So it wasn't successful in that regard, but there is a plan to take that up again tomorrow or when the next window is available.

"The next two to three days are looking very poor weather wise, particularly in relation to the swell at sea.

"The spring tide is there for the next three days, and that's a very high volume of water passing through the channel that the crash site is contained within.

"So in those circumstances, they could be very difficult conditions," the senior garda added.

It comes as the funeral of Capt Mark Duffy (51) will take place in Blackrock, Co Louth, tomorrow morning.

The father-of-two was freed from the cockpit of the aircraft's wreckage on Sunday morning before being brought to shore.

The fourth crew member, Capt Dara Fitzpatrick (45), was recovered by an RNLI lifeboat in the aftermath of the fatal collision but was later pronounced dead.

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