The focus of the Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 search mission off the North Mayo coast has shifted to the recovery of the remaining two missing crew members, writes Evelyn Ring.
Four people were on board the helicopter when it went down almost two weeks ago. Capt Dara Fitzpatrick died after she was pulled from the sea on Tuesday, March 14.
Capt Mark Duffy, one of the three missing crew, was recovered yesterday when search teams succeeded in removing his body from the cockpit of the aircraft yesterday.
A remotely operated vehicle was used to clear some of the mangled wreckage and open access to the cockpit which is 40 metres below sea level and in an area where there are strong currents.
The remaining missing crew members are winch operator Paul Ormsby and winchman Ciarán Smith.
The search is continuing in the extended area of the wreck site off Blackrock Island — in the seabed and among the debris. Drones are also being used to scan the coastline.
The agencies involved in the search operation are hoping that improved weather conditions over the next couple of days will allow their efforts to continue uninterrupted. However, they will have to be mindful of the current at Blackrock and the tidal situation in the area.
One of the naval divers who played a leading role in the recovery of Cpt Duffy’s body said they had to consider the way swells coming in from the Atlantic interacted with Blackrock.
Navy divers escorted the co-pilot’s body to the pier in Blacksod shortly after midday. The crewman’s family were informed and had gone to the pier to wait for them to arrive.
A white tent was erected to allow a doctor examine the body and a short time later gardaí confirmed it had been positively identified. Capt Duffy’s body was transferred to a coffin, draped in the Irish flag. It was driven off the pier in a hearse led by a lone piper.
Coast Guard staff and other people involved in the search and recovery formed a guard of honour behind the hearse. Every effort was made to make the recovery of Capt Duffy’s body as respectful and as dignified as possible.
The State Pathologist’s office was notified, and a post-mortem examination was carried out at Mayo University Hospital in Castlebar later in the day.
Naval Service divers had worked in teams of two in the recovery of Capt Duffy’s body. They are now searching among the debris at the wreck site.
The aircraft’s ‘black box’ that may provide vital clues about the cause of the crash was recovered by the Naval Service diving team on Friday and flown by the Air Accident Investigation Unit to its counterpart in Britain for further analysis.
This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.