Intensive efforts to recover the remaining missing crew from the Coast Guard helicopter that vanished off the Mayo coast will continue today as air crash investigators try to find out what caused the disaster.
Its pilot, Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, died. Her three crew members, Mark Duffy, Ciarán Smith and Paul Ormsby are missing, feared dead.
Rescue 116, a helicopter based at Dublin Airport, was flying to assist Sligo based colleagues in evacuating a casualty from a fishing vessel it disappeared from radar.
No warning was issued, no mayday call put out and no message received from any of the aircraft’s emergency position-indicating radio beacons, or the personal locator beacons carried by crew, which should have activated on impact with water.
Only the last known co-ordinates of the crew and the early sighting of debris enabled air and sea search and recovery teams to estimate the point of impact, around 13km from shore off Blacksod around 12.45am yesterday.
Gerard O’Flynn, Coast Guard search and rescue operations manager, said “the helicopter just simply disappeared”.
“It was just a sudden break in communications and there was no prior warning of any particular problem,” he added.
Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, was the first of the crew to be recovered, just before 8am yesterday morning, but she was pronounced dead a short time later.
Capt Fitzpatrick, the mother of a three-year-old boy, was one of Ireland’s most senior search and rescue pilots, with more than 20 years in the job, and one of the few women worldwide to reach her rank and level of experience.
Her sister, Niamh Fitzpatrick, confirmed the family’s loss. “My brave sister, Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, lost her life in the Rescue 116 crash. We are devastated,” she said, asking for prayers for the remaining missing three crew members.
President Michael D Higgins led the official condolences. “Today marks a dark day in the history of the Coast Guard,” he said.
“On behalf of the people of Ireland, may I pay tribute to Captain Dara Fitzpatrick who died today.
“We are all grateful for the courage, resolution and exemplary commitment to the aims of the Coast Guard that Captain Fitzpatrick and her colleagues have consistently displayed.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny also offered his “deepest sympathy” to the families of Captain Fitzpatrick and her colleagues and said the investigation must uncover what went wrong.
While the search goes on, , CHC Ireland, a subsidary of a multinational search and rescue aircraft leasing firm, which has the contract to provide helicopters and crews to the Coast Guard, is carrying out its own inquiries.
Sikorsky, manufacturers of the S92 helicopter the crew were flying, are also conducting inquiries.
In January the company recommended the grounding of all S92s worldwide after an incident on an oil platform revealed problems with the tail rotor.
The Coast Guard’s S92s were inspected for the problem and and cleared for continued use. Rescue 116 had also undergone all routine safety and maintenance checks prior to its final rescue mission.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved