Rescue 116 system error ‘flagged 4 years earlier’

Six months after Rescue 116 crashed into an island that was not included in its onboard warning system, serious questions have been raised about when the company first learned about this lethal danger.

RTÉ Prime Time’s Katie Hannon reported last night that the programme has been told that a pilot had flagged the absence of Black Rock from the system four years ago — but the error was not corrected.

The programme also revealed that nine days after Rescue 116 crashed with the loss of all four of its crew, it was discovered that the aeronautical data relating to one of our most famous islands, Skellig Michael in Kerry, was also dangerously inaccurate as it indicated that its height was more than 500 feet than it actually is.

The Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue service is run by a private operator, CHC Ireland, a subsidiary of a helicopter services provider based in Canada. It won a 10-year, €500m contract to provide the service in 2012.

All of the Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue helicopters have been equipped with an Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System since 2013.

The EGPWS is designed to warn pilots to take corrective action to avoid a collision if they get too close to terrain or a known obstacle. But the system can only work if its database has a complete picture of the terrain and obstacles on a flight path.

Black Rock Island was not in the system. The pilots of Rescue 116 did not receive a warning and did not see the island until it was too late.

Prime Time revealed there was a chain of emails between Sligo-based Coast Guard pilots and a senior CHC manager referring to Black Rock Island and/or other omissions in the EGPWS in 2013.

A source recalled that the emails were sent after a pilot spotted the omission of Black Rock from the EGPWS while carrying out test flights to ensure that the new aircraft’s safety systems were all operating as they should.

This was a particular safety concern as the 282-ft island was on the route approved by the company for approaching the refuelling base at Blacksod Bay from the south.

According to a source quoted in the programme, Coast Guard personnel were told at a meeting in April, six weeks after the Rescue 116 crash, that management was trying to establish if this information had been passed on to the company that supplied the database for their system.

That company, Honeywell, told RTÉ that they could not comment on an ongoing investigation.


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