Improved weather enables scans of helicopter search site

The search for the black box data recorder from the Coast Guard helicopter that went down off the Mayo coast received a boost yesterday after improved weather conditions allowed underwater scans to be taken of the area believed to be the crash site.

LÉ Eithne at Blackrock in Co Mayo. Picture: Keith Heneghan

Experts from the Marine Institute were able to gather information from the sea bed near Blackrock Lighthouse that will help in the deployment of the large Commisioner of Irish Lights vessel, the Granuaile.

The 80m long Granuaile is designed for working in rough seas and has cranes on board that enable her to carry a hi-tech undersea robot, the Holland 1 ROV, that searchers hope will pinpoint the location of the black box.

Holland 1 has powerful beams and cameras that can survey in minute detail wide areas of the sea bed and reef walls, and robotic arms that can carry out delicate probes and retrieval manouvres.

A signal from the black box was detected last Wednesday but heavy swells and bad weather have prevented sub-aqua teams carrying out exploratory dives.

Coast Guard operations manager Declan Geoghegan said yesterday’s site scans started at midday and continued until late afternoon.

“Once they’ve analysed the information they’ve gathered, it will be invaluable for the next excerise,” he said. “The ROV has no problem going down but the issue is getting the Granuaile into position. That’s uncharted water and the Granuaile has to be comfortable that there are no pinnacles [submerged rock] or other obstructions.”

Meanwhile the coastline and sea search continued for the three missing crew members of Rescue 116, Captain Mark Duffy; winchman, Ciaran Smith, and winch operator Paul Ormsby.

The funeral of their colleague, Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, who was pulled from the sea hours after the crash, took place on Saturday in her native Co Dublin.

Capt Fitzpatrick and her missing colleagues were remembered with a minute’s silence at many sporting events across the country over the weekend. Books of condolence also opened yesterday at Coast Guard stations around the country.

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