Coast Guard crash report won't be ready for months

The Air Accident Investigation Unit’s final report into the loss of four Irish Coast Guard air crew off the north Mayo coast will not now be completed before the second anniversary of the crash.

The State’s aviation accident investigating authority has confirmed work is still continuing on a draft final report into the March 14, 2017, crash and it is understood intense efforts are being made to complete it.

However, it is expected it will still be some months before the families of the four crew — Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy, winch operator Paul Ormsby, and winchman Ciarán Smith — receive copies of the final investigation.

The four died when their helicopter collided with Blackrock Island during an approach to Blacksod lighthouse in north Mayo to refuel, while providing top cover for a medical evacuation off the west coast.

The bodies of the two winch crew are still missing after an intensive 42-day official search, and extensive efforts beyond that.

One preliminary report and one interim statement on the crash have been issued by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU), which had aimed to complete its final report early this year.

Its preliminary report, published within a month of the crash, focused on anomalies in the flight navigational information, while a separate ground proximity warning system, which is not a primary navigational tool, did not have Blackrock Island in its database.

The preliminary report also identified a flaw in the installation of satellite locator beacons on crew lifejackets.

Under international and national legislation, the AAIU is obliged to issue an interim statement at each anniversary of a serious incident, “detailing the progress of the investigation and any safety issue raised”, if a final report can’t be made public within 12 months.

A first interim statement issued last year called on Minister for Transport Shane Ross to conduct a “thorough” review of Search and Rescue aviation operations in the State and recommended that CHC Ireland — the air crew’s employer — should review its safety management systems.

CHC Ireland has since said that it has “established, documented, and implemented an integrated safety system”.

Mr Ross has accepted all 12 recommendations, including advice that the Irish Aviation Authority should be “formally and clearly” assigned responsibility for legal and safety oversight of civil search and rescue flights to resolve a “disconnect” between key players.

In a brief statement, the AAIU says that it will not be issuing a second interim statement on March 14.

“Work on the preparation of a draft report is at an advanced stage,” it says.

“Rather than preparing another detailed interim statement, which would detract from the ongoing work of preparing the draft report, the investigation is focussing its efforts on finalising the draft report.”

Families of several of the air crew contacted by the Examiner said they would prefer not to comment, but did confirm they had been notified by the AAIU in advance of its statement.

Families and interested parties will be given 60 days to comment on a draft before the final report into the accident is concluded.

A separate inquiry is being conducted by the gardaí and Health and Safety Authority.

A preliminary inquest hearing last April in Belmullet, Co Mayo, was adjourned, pending the completion of investigations.

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