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'It's vital that we learn the lessons from tragic accidents': Ireland to get a new search and rescue plan

The new framework will be phased in over the next 18 months.

Emergency services searching for the wreckage of Rescue 116 two years ago.
Emergency services searching for the wreckage of Rescue 116 two years ago.
Image: Eamonn Farrell

A NEW NATIONAL search and rescue plan for Ireland is to be rolled out over the next 18 months following an independent review, the Department of Transport has announced. 

The review process was prompted by the air accident investigation into the Rescue 116 accident at Blackrock island, off Co Mayo – which claimed the lives of four crew members on board – in March 2017.

An interim report in March 2018 from the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) recommended an independent review be carried out into the oversight of search and rescue (SAR) operations in Ireland. 

The outcome of the review, which was published in September 2018 made 12 recommendations, including renegotiating responsibilities for air safety and updating existing software and resources, which Transport Minister Shane Ross agreed to implement. 

A new National SAR Plan (NSP) will replace the existing National Maritime SAR Framework dating from 2010, and will involve a new governance and oversight regime going forward for the various entities involved such as An Garda Síochana, the Irish Coast Guard and Irish Aviation Authority. 

A virtual joint rescue coordination centre will be established to benefit these organisations and “will provide for enhanced operational oversight and prioritisation”. 

Speaking of the new plans, Ross said the new framework considered the interim statement into the R116 crash, the recommendations from the independent review, and the Marine Casualty Investigation Board report into a fatal accident involving a coast guard in Kilkee, Co Clare. 

“This new plan takes account of the recommendations arising from a succession of Reports and Reviews in relation to search and rescue in Ireland over the last year,” he said. 

“It is vital that we learn the lessons from tragic accidents such as Kilkee and Blacksod, and that we nurture and promote a world-class search and rescue service.”

A new SAR regulator’s forum, bringing transport regulators in this area together to exchange good practice has been developed, as well as a National SAR Committee, which will continuously monitor the SAR system. 

Rescue 116 crash

The tragic R116 crash in March 2017 claimed the lives of four crew members and only the bodies of two – Pilot Dara Fitzpatrick and Co-Pilot Mark Duffy – were found. 

The bodies of winch operator Paul Ormsby and winchman Ciarán Smith were never recovered. 

A preliminary report into the cause of the crash found issues with the navigation software which did not show Blackrock island on the onboard warning system.

Mechanical anomalies were ruled out in the investigation and other areas, including human behaviour and procedural issues, formed the line of inquiry for investigators. 

In March this year, the AAIU said it was at an “advanced stage” in preparing its final report into the circumstances surrounding the cause of the crash. 

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