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'Confusion and conflicts of interest' found among agencies who oversee Irish search and rescue operations

The review was commissioned following the fatal crash of Rescue 116 last year.

File photo
File photo
Image: Eamonn Farrell

A REVIEW INTO Irish search and rescue operations has found “several sources of confusion” and potential conflicts of interest among the agencies who oversee them.

The review, published today, was commissioned on foot of a recommendation by the Irish Air Accident Investigation Unit following the fatal crash of Rescue 116 last year.

Four people, including Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, winch operator Paul Ormbsy and winch man Ciaran Smith, were killed on the mission after the helicopter they were travelling in crashed at Blackrock Island in Co Mayo.

The review, which was carried out by international experts, did not investigate the specific circumstances surrounding the crash and did not link its findings to the accident.

It found that the Irish Aviation Authority is designated as the “competent authority” in Ireland for overseeing European Commission regulations, but that the Safety Regulation Division is designated as Ireland’s supervisory authority under the Single European Sky initiative.

“This creates potential confusion about who is responsible for the safety oversight of the entities involved in the delivery of SAR aviation services,” the report says.

Clear and unambiguous

The report made 12 recommendations into how search and rescue operations should be carried out in Ireland, including that the IAA should be assigned with responsibility for legal and safety oversight of civil aviation search and rescue activities.

It also recommended that the IAA developed “clear and unambiguous” search and rescue regulatory material appropriate to the scale of the national aviation system, and to identify the resources required to develop and implement that material.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross, who appointed the review team in May, said he fully accepted the findings and recommendations of the review.

In a statement, he said: “I have instructed that all necessary steps be taken without delay to ensure speedy implementation of all of the recommendations.

“As the report explains, search and rescue oversight and regulation is a complex matter, and international regulation is still endeavouring to keep pace with practice on the ground.

“However, we now have an opportunity in Ireland – and a blueprint – to make meaningful improvement to our current oversight structures, and in doing so set a benchmark for other jurisdictions.”

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