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Family of Rescue 116 pilot say crew 'badly let down' by rescue service operator

The Fitzpatrick family said “many failings” by CHC Ireland contributed to the tragedy.

The family of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick have criticised CHC Ireland.
The family of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick have criticised CHC Ireland.
Image: RollingNews.ie

THE FAMILY OF the helicopter pilot who died while on a search and rescue mission on Rescue 116 has said that today’s long-awaited report into the 2017 crash highlights “many failings” by the operator of the rescue service.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, winchman Ciarán Smith and winch operator Paul Ormsby all lost their lives after Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 crashed at Blackrock island off the Mayo coast on 14 March, 2017. 

The final Air Accident Investigation Unit report, published today, made a number of criticisms about the Irish Coast Guard and CHC Ireland, the private company operating the helicopter.

The Fitzpatrick family said today they hope that the report will ensure that those who were responsible for the operation will urgently implement the necessary changes so that such an accident never happens again.

“We believe that Dara and the other crew members of Rescue 116 were badly let down by the Operator CHC not providing them with the safe operating procedures and training that they were entitled to expect,” the Fitzpatrick family said.

The report found the “probable cause” of the crash was poor weather, the helicopter’s altitude and the crew being unaware of a 282ft obstacle on the flight path to the initial route waypoint of one of the operator’s pre-programmed Flight Management System (FMS) routes.

It identified 12 contributory causes of the crash, including “serious and important weaknesses” with how CHC Ireland managed risk mitigation. 

The family said there were “many other failings” by the operator that contributed to the accident.

“These include not training the crew on all the specific approaches on simulators and in the aircraft and ensuring that before they were tasked to fly into different landing sites they had prescribed recent experience,” they said.

In a statement this morning, CHC Ireland expressed its “deepest sympathy” towards the family and friends of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, winchman Ciarán Smith and winch operator Paul Ormsby.

CHC Ireland said lessons from the report will “undoubtedly” be applied across search and rescue operations in Ireland and throughout the world.

It said it is “committed to implementing the appropriate safety recommendations that are directed towards CHC Ireland in the final report”. 

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The Irish Air Line Pilots’ Association said the report outlines a number of regulatory and systemic issues which “conspired to put the crew in lethal danger.”

It highlighted the provision of inaccurate and misleading chart and map data as the lead cause of the tragedy.

“As an airline pilot, if I take a flight from Dublin to Rome, I must navigate the Alps, and I expect one of two things from the Swiss authorities; tell me the height of the alps, or tell me they don’t know the heights, so I’d better avoid them,” IALPA President Evan Cullen explained. 

“The one thing they can’t do, under any circumstances, ever, is tell me the wrong height, or tell me the Alps are not there.

In essence that is what the Irish state did to Dara, Mark, Paul and Ciarán. They approved information which said, ‘you are safe’, when the absolute opposite was the truth.

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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