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'It's unspeakable, what's going on': Shane Ross meets families of Coast Guard crew

Searches are ongoing to locate chief pilot Mark Duffy and winchmen Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 3.15pm

TRANSPORT MINISTER SHANE Ross is meeting with the families of the Coast Guard crew who were affected by yesterday’s tragic incident.

Efforts are continuing to locate the three remaining crewmembers from the coastguard helicopter that went down in Mayo early yesterday morning.

Four crew members were on board the downed Rescue 116 helicopter. Captain Dara Fitzpatrick was recovered from the sea yesterday but she passed away yesterday afternoon. Searches are now ongoing to locate chief pilot Mark Duffy and winchmen Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith.

It’s understood the searches are focusing on finding the remains of the helicopter itself.

Speaking this morning, Gerard O’Flynn of the Coast Guard said that mapping equipment is being used in the search. There are three garda teams ready to dive, but the sea is too rough at the moment.

The diving teams are evaluating the situation and assessing where they might dive, and will be helped by information from the Marine Institute and any information obtained by way of debris.

The Ballyglas volunteer Coast Guard team are continuing to do a search.

“Unspeakable”

Minister Shane Ross has arrived at the scene and is currently meeting with family of the crew members. Speaking to journalists at the scene, he said that it is “unspeakable what’s going on”.

He said he is at the scene “to express the solidarity” of the Government with the family members “in this awful hour in their lives”. He said he also wanted to say to the community “that we think that what they’re doing is absolutely wonderful, uniting behind the families here today”.

He expressed solidarity and sympathy to everybody involved. Ross also noted the work that the Coast Guard crew had themselves none in saving people’s lives.

The idea that people whose purpose in life, whose motivation in life, was to save people have lost their lives themselves makes it all the more poignant. These people have saved some people’s lives in the past and have now lost their own. It’s a tragedy.

Ross said he has spoken to Taoiseach Enda Kenny – who is in Boston – and they agreed that the State would give any help needed to the families, to “find those who are missing and establish what happened and to do anything to alleviate the distress”.

Atmosphere of shock

Earlier today, John Gallagher of the community co-op said there is an atmosphere of shock in the area.

“Because we live in a very remote and disadvantaged area we rely on the emergency services every day,” he said. Locals have been helping out in a big way with the search.

We will continue as long as we have to. There are people who have been coordinating with the Coast Guard who are going out walking the beaches. We are getting calls from all over the county of people who are wanting to come down. They are walking the beaches with us. Mainly the beach on the western side of the peninsula, it is very easy to access.

He said that the whole community is getting involved, and “it is getting wider as it goes on”. “The search of the shoreline is important,” he said, noting that there are five or six boats involved in the search and several smaller boats which are bringing people to and from the larger craft.

The search is underway with reduced weather conditions this morning. Search and rescue operations manager with the Irish Coast Guard, Gerard O’Flynn told reporters at the scene:

“Deteriorating weather conditions will make it more difficult but they’re all professional searchers, they know what they’re at and the search is very well resourced and at the moment we’re not seeking any other assistance from the public or anything like that.”

He said the search is being conducted where debris has been found, “It’s in a relatively small area of perhaps two square miles or so.”

O’Flynn added that the process is “enormously difficult for family”.

They’re looking for hard information and just clutching at straws. It is the most difficult thing in a search of this type.

“Your heart would go out to them when you see small kids, parents, brothers, sisters, relations – they are doing their best to support each other but it is a very difficult time for them.

“They’re hoping any boat that’s moving is something new, some new bit of information. It’s very very difficult.”

lr crew search 758A1201_90505434 (1) Families of missing crew arriving at the scene. Source: Eamonn Farrell

Coast Guard helicopters are being assisted in their search by the Air Corps Casa, RNLI boats, the Naval Services’s LE Róisín, garda divers and local fishing vessels.

Jurgen Whyte from the Air Accident Investigation Unit said that two of his investigators have been on scene since yesterday. They are hoping that the two flight recorders from the helicopter will be located.

One of the recorders captured all voice and radio communications internally on the helicopter, while the other recorded the engine, the power from the engine, and details such as speeds and height.

“These are modern enough that we can, if we recover the recorder and if it is functioning correctly, we can hopefully reanalyse, actually, the flight and get the aircraft to ‘fly’ again digitally, and that will help investigators to determine what has happened in the final moments of the flight itself,” explained Whyte.

 

Aviation expert Gerry Byrne told Newstalk Breakfast:

“They may solve the mystery immediately or they may not because all they will do is tell you what the aircraft was doing … it will tell you what the aircraft was doing, what height it was flying at, what direction it was flying in, how fast it was going.

You can more or less fly the aircraft through its last few minutes … but it can only tell you what the aircraft was doing at the time it went down, it will not necessarily tell you why.

“There is a voice recorder, it can sometimes be a very useful tool for air crash investigators because while they didn’t have time to send out a mayday, the pilots may have said something to each other that will turn up on the voice recorder about a problem they may have been having.

In this particular case having seen the wreckage, it’s obvious that the helicopter came down pretty hard, hit the sea very hard. It possibly hit something else prior to that.

He added that speculation has arisen overnight about the possibility that there may have been a collision with Blackrock.

When asked if he’s suggesting the helicopter clipped the rock he said, “I really have no idea, the possibility has to be investigated because it was in the area.”

However, he added that the crew was very experienced and the machine was very well equipped with forward looking radar which would have signalled the approach of anything in the way.

LR crew search 758A1139_90505427 Emergency Services activity on the the pier at first light this morning. Source: Eamonn Farrell via RollingNews.ie

Wreckage 

Two navy vessels kept searching through the night, while a survey vessel arrived on the scene early this morning.

At least six trawlers involved in the search have been transporting debris to the harbour in Blacksod.

Parts of the wreckage from the downed Coast Guard helicopter have also been brought to shore. The helicopter’s door is among the debris that’s been recovered.

The Director General of the HSE, Tony O’Brien, said, “This tragic event brings into sharp focus the great sacrifices that members of the Coast Guard make every day as they protect our citizens.

“On behalf of the HSE and in particular the National Ambulance Service, I wish to extend my deepest condolences to the family of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick. As the search continues for the remaining three crew of Rescue 116, our thoughts are with them and their families at this time.”

- Additional reporting Paul Hosford and Aoife Barry

Read: ’You hang on to a thread of hope but are fearful’ – The search for Rescue 116>

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