R116 report: Shane Ross pledges search and rescue review

The Transport Minister has pledged a prompt review of search and rescue (SAR) aviation operations in line with a key recommendation of a report examining a fatal helicopter crash in which four members of the Irish Coast Guard perished.

Shane Ross was responding to the publication yesterday of an interim report on the crash of R116 on March 14 last year, in which Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, 45, co-pilot Capt Mark Duffy, 51, winch operator Paul Ormsby, 53, and winchman Ciaran Smith, 38, lost their lives while on a SAR mission off the Mayo coast.

The report raises questions about oversight of SAR aviation operations in Ireland, which are excluded from the regulatory framework of civil aviation.

It points out that the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) published a State safety plan in June 2017, in which it said it initiated a comprehensive review of the safety oversight structure for helicopter operations “in order to ensure that there are no gaps in the oversight process”.

In yesterday’s report, the Air Accident Investigation Unit said it was continuing to examine the “oversight function” as it believes “greater clarity” is needed “regarding individual and collective responsibilities”. It recommends a “thorough” review of SAR operations.

Mr Ross said the review will be conducted without delay, by an external party.

The report recommends helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky make modifications to ensure latitude/longitude information on its flight data recorder reflects the most accurate position information available during all flight types and missions.

This was in response to a finding R116 position information was “a coarse record of the aircraft position”.

Investigators said they were continuing to analyse information in relation to the Safety Management System (SMS) of SAR helicopters operator, CHC Ireland, because it continued to have concerns “regarding its efficacy”.

It made an interim recommendation that CHCI, with external input, review its SMS to ensure its processes are “sufficiently robust” to maximize safety.

The AAIU made two recommendations in a preliminary report last year, including that CHCI review all route guides used by its SAR helicopters, with a view to enhancing information on obstacle heights and positions. CHCI said a revised route guide has been drawn up. Investigators said it considers the recommendation “remains open”.

The previous report also recommended the manufacturer of satellite locator beacons on lifejackets used by SAR crews review the viability of the installation provisions and instructions. Beaufort Ltd said they had made modifications and trialled them.

Investigations into the cause of the crash continue.


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