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Wednesday 13 December 2017

'Come right now... we're gone' - last words of tragic Rescue 116

Rescuers look out towards Blackrock island. Photo: Keith Heneghan / Phocus
Rescuers look out towards Blackrock island. Photo: Keith Heneghan / Phocus

"Come right, now... We're gone."

These were the last words spoken on board Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 before it smashed into a rocky island off the Co Mayo coast on March 14.

A preliminary report into the crash revealed the helicopter had "pitched up" rapidly in its final seconds.

The report also revealed that the on-board warning system did not have data related to Blackrock island.

An obstacle database on its system had not listed the lighthouse on Blackrock, and the terrain database did not have information on the island.

Audio from the black box recorder revealed pilot Captain Dara Fitzpatrick (45) and co-pilot Captain Mark Duffy (51) had discussed earlier in the flight that it had been a long time since either had visited the island.

The report said that the helicopter was in stable level flight at 200 feet on a track towards Blackrock island in the moments before impact.

In the final seconds, the helicopter pitched up rapidly, impacted with terrain at the western end of Blackrock and "departed from controlled flight", according to the report, which was released yesterday.

Louder

Audio from the black box revealed one of the crew members seated in the rear of the helicopter - either Paul Ormsby (53) or Ciaran Smith (38) - identified an island in front of the helicopter and recommended a right turn.

"Looking at an island just in, directly ahead of us now guys, you want to come right," he said.

"OK, come right just confirm," Capt Fitzpatrick asked.

The crew member then said to turn about 20 degrees right.

The commander then asked Capt Duffy to select heading, which he confirmed by replying "roger".

Just two seconds later, the rear crew member was recorded saying "come right now, come right". He then repeated the instruction in a louder manner.

The last recorded audio from the flight deck was the co-pilot saying "we're gone".

It appears the crew - who flew out near Blackrock before making their planned scheduled fuel stop at Blacksod - was not aware of the island before it was too late.

In the report, a section on the "Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System" (EGPWS) stated that investigators have been in touch with manufacturers Honeywell.

"The lighthouse obstacle is not in the obstacle database and the terrain of the island is not in our terrain database," a statement said.

The Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) said it would continue engaging with Honeywell and other agencies to "reach a full understanding of this issue".

A source close to the investigation said the problem with the terrain database is just the "final link in the chain" and other circumstances around the crash are being investigated.

The report also released the transcript from the voice recorder in the final seconds before the crash, when the crew of R116 appeared to know it was too late.

Capt Duffy is heard informing Capt Fitzpatrick of a "small target at six miles 11 o'clock. Large. Out to the right there".

Capt Fitzpatrick replied "roger", before adding, "Eh, just a small little island... that's B L M O itself".

At this stage, either Mr Ormsby or Mr Duffy - who were sharing a communication channel for rear crew - said: "Looking at an island just in, directly ahead of us now guys, you want to come right."

The helicopter then pitched up rapidly before impacting with the western end of Blackrock.

Rescue 116 crashed into the sea about eight miles off Co Mayo on its return from supporting an operation to rescue a fisherman.

The bodies of Capt Fitzpatrick - who was pulled from the sea in the hours after the crash - and Capt Duffy, who was taken from the cockpit 12 days later by Navy divers working at depths of 40 metres, have been recovered.

Fuselage

Efforts to find the winch team have continued, with searches extending from north Galway and Achill island along the western seaboard to west Donegal.

Some pieces of the fuselage were found off Donegal two weeks after the crash.

Over the weekend, about 110 trawlers helped in the search for the two remaining missing crewmen. However, nothing was discovered.

Initial reviews of the black box flight recorder showed there was no indication of any mechanical problems in the seconds before the crash.

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