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Sunday 19 November 2017

Map gave wrong height for rock where rescue chopper crew perished

Wreckage from the Rescue 116 helicopter is brought ashore at Blacksod Pier, Co Mayo
Wreckage from the Rescue 116 helicopter is brought ashore at Blacksod Pier, Co Mayo

The crew of Rescue 116, the Coastguard helicopter that crashed taking the lives of four crew members, was working off blurred maps which did not accurately show the height of Blackrock Island.

The chopper crew was killed after crashing into the island in March. The maps they were using to navigate showed Blackrock Island at 46ft. In reality, it is 282ft at its highest point

Further serious concerns have been raised about equipment and life-jacket beacons on the helicopter, RTE's Prime Time programme revealed last night.

A previous report by the programme makers highlighted the absence of crucial mapping information about Blackrock Island, which the helicopter struck with fatal consequences.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, winch operator Paul Ormsby and winchman Ciaran Smith all died in the crash. The bodies of the winchmen have not yet been recovered.

Mapping

The new report stated a moving map system used by the pilots showed Blackrock with the correct height. However, the map is blurred at some settings and, when zoomed to a close range, the actual height of the island is hidden behind the location code.

Weeks before the accident, coastguard pilots began testing a new electronic mapping system that was uploaded on to a iPad mini and strapped to the pilots' knee boards.

RTE Prime Time established that both pilots on Rescue 116 took these iPads on board on the night of the crash. This map was not approved for use as it was still on trial.

It also emerged that search and rescue crews complained about poor quality maps and navigation equipment for months before the crash. An employee for the company that operates the service told the programme that pilots are still flying with blurred maps.

It also reported that official aeronautical maps produced by the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) contain a number of significant errors. After Rescue 116 crashed, the IAA was informed that Skellig Michael was depicted incorrectly on their maps.

The authority told RTE Prime Time in July that, following the discovery of this error, a review of all other coastal islands was conducted and their data verified. No further "anomalies of substance were found".

However, last night's programme stated there are still other substantial anomalies.

Achill Island is depicted in the official aeronautical quarter- inch map with no contours or tinting to indicate high ground. In fact, it has two peaks that are over 2,200ft high. The IAA, responsible for producing the maps, declined to comment due to the continuing inquiry into the Rescue 116 crash.

It also emerged last night that the company that runs the search and rescue helicopter service, CHC Ireland, received repeated warnings that the life jackets worn by Ms Fitzpatrick and Mr Duffy were useless.

Hazards

In the five years before Rescue 116 was lost, crew members logged several hazards reports about the life jackets' personal locator beacons - a key safety system that ensures pilots will be located quickly if they end up ditching in the sea.

Pilots warned management the personal locator beacons on the jackets were not installed according to manufacturers' guidelines and would not work.

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