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Wednesday 22 November 2017

Heartbroken rescuers bring home the body of tragic pilot

The hearse carrying Capt Mark Duffy to Mayo General Hospital is escorted by rescue workers. Photo: PA
The hearse carrying Capt Mark Duffy to Mayo General Hospital is escorted by rescue workers. Photo: PA

Rescue workers are today expecting to lift the wreckage of the Rescue 116 helicopter in an effort to find the two missing Irish Coast Guard members.

As the search and recovery operation enters its 13th day, hope remains that Ciaran Smith and Paul Ormsby will be found at or near the crash site.

The remains of their colleague, Captain Mark Duffy (51), were recovered yesterday morning by a Naval Service dive team.

His body was brought to Blacksod, Co Mayo, shortly after 1pm, when a guard of honour was formed by rescue workers as his coffin, draped in the tricolour, was taken by hearse to Mayo General Hospital, where a post-mortem will be carried out.

Capt Duffy's colleagues, winch operator Ciaran Smith and winch man Paul Ormsby, have still not been located despite extensive searches off the Mayo coast.

The fourth crew member, Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, was recovered soon after the helicopter crashed but was later pronounced dead in hospital.

The rescue operation will now focus on using flotation devices to partially raise the Sikorsky S-92's main section in an effort to locate the two missing airmen.

Jurgen Whyte, a chief inspector with the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU), said: "Now that the cockpit area has been cleared, we wish to lift a segment of the wreckage, mainly the gearbox and the engines.

Priority

"We wish to lift that just a bit to see if the missing crewmen are there. That would be our last task at the moment at the wreckage site.

"We may, after we recover the crew members, lift pieces of the wreckage that are of interest to us."

He said "the hope" is that the two Irish Coast Guard members are near the wreckage, but added that the search area would need to be widened if they were not discovered after today's operation.

"The reason we have to focus so much on the cockpit is that we didn't want to lose Capt Mark Duffy in the process of lifting the wreckage, so the priority had to go to releasing him.

"Now that area is clear, we want to partially lift the large area that is there.

"After we've done that, we hope the divers will be able to get underneath to see if the remaining crew members are there. If not, then we expand the search area away from the wreckage."

Colleagues of the tragic crew described the recovery of Capt Duffy as a "poignant and challenging" day for the Irish Coast Guard.

Incident Officer Michael O'Toole said their thoughts were with Capt Duffy's wife and two children.

"It is a particularly poignant day for ourselves in the Coast Guard. We've recovered our colleague Capt Mark Duffy," said Mr O'Toole.

"Our thoughts are with his family, his wife Hermione, daughter Esme (14), son Fionn (12) and his extended family.

Difficult

"It's difficult to prepare for these things but I think the coast guard community in Galway and Mayo and those other volunteers that has attended today have acquitted themselves quite well in the dignity which they showed our dearest colleague Capt Mark Duffy."

The senior garda who has helped co-ordinate the investigation, Superintendent Tony Healy, also praised the crew of Rescue 116.

"These are a crew who put their lives at risk day in, day out for the Irish community. It's very poignant and very sad that we're involved in such a search."

Investigators have established that the helicopter's tail section collided with the western section of Blackrock island before crashing into the sea early on March 14.

However, the examination of the helicopter's black box will help determine exactly what led to the tragic incident.

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