Strong winds and heavy sea conditions have severely hampered the search operation for Irish Coast Guard helicopter R116 in Blacksod, Mayo.

Three crew members, Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby, and Ciarán Smith, remain missing at sea while the cross-agency search team hopes to carry out a major sea scan and dive during a “weather window” on Sunday.

Declan Geoghegan of the Irish Coast Guard explained the plan for the weekend: “The weather has turned and there’s a huge swell out there, about 6m. We’ve a plan together for the weekend involving the Marine Institute and the Granuaile [an Irish Lights multi-function vessel measuring 80m]. ”

He said debris could have built up under water and it would have to be cleared before divers or robots are sent down to locate the black box of R116 or the wreckage.

Members of the Garda Underwater Unit and Coast Guard resuming their search from Blacksod yesterday. Picture Colin Keegan
Members of the Garda Underwater Unit and Coast Guard resuming their search from Blacksod yesterday. Picture Colin Keegan

“Prior to the Granuaile going in, we have to clear the area there, because there may be pinnacle obstacles underneath that we are not aware of, for, number one, an ROV [remotely-operated vehicle] and, number two, a dive team.

“So, we’re going to clean that first. With the weather window we’ve established, we’re going to go straight in with an ROV or a naval dive team once we’ve established where the box is; that the wreckage is there and hopefully that our colleagues are with that wreckage.

“We identified that window of three to four hours on Sunday.”

The tragedy claimed the life of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, who is to be buried tomorrow in Dublin.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick
Captain Dara Fitzpatrick

Relatives of the missing crew members are in the area being updated on all developments. Hermione, wife of missing Mark Duffy, posted a message of thanks on Facebook yesterday.

“Thank you for the huge outpouring for my beloved Mark, my hero, my soulmate, my right hand, but we are both ciotógs [left-handed], my baby’s Daddy,” she wrote.

Ben Roynane, a relative, said: “It’s disbelief. None of us have been able to get over it yet. It’s still a shock. It’s not real. It doesn’t seem real, at all.

“Mark was a fantastic guy. He just had a persona about him. He was an absolutely fantastic father and brilliant husband to my cousin.

“The waiting is the biggest problem, now. It’s the hardest thing that the families have to deal with. The families have been so well looked after up here. Any information that’s been passed on is being passed on really, really well and really quickly. The wait is just the hardest thing,” he added.

Local volunteer Maureen Ruadhain, whose brother was an attendant on the Blackrock Lighthouse close to where R116’s black box has been detected, has been preparing food for the families.

“Since we got the sad news on Tuesday morning, the doors were open.

“Everybody pulled up their sleeves and got together and started working and ran for food and that and the community has been overwhelming.

“There’s been food coming in from every corner. We had to go in and buy the first lot to get us going. Homemade soup and sandwiches are being made here and home-baking and that,” Ms Ruadhain told the Irish Examiner.

Rescue 116 tragedy: ‘The wait is just the hardest thing’

At the time of the crash on Monday night, the Dublin-based R116 had been providing top cover for another Irish Coast Guard helicopter, Rescue 118, that was performing a medical evacuation [medevac] off the coast of Mayo.

Rescue 116 was returning to base when it fell out of contact.

However, it has emerged that the Defence Forces had received a request to provide cover.

Commenting on confirmation from the Defence Forces that a Casa fixed-wing, an aircraft, was initially asked to provide top cover for the R118 during Monday night’s medical evacuation, Gerard O’Flynn of the Irish Coast Guard said that it was routine to request a Casa as first option and then provide a helicopter if this was not available.

“Our contract states we must be available 24/7 and our own aircraft regularly provide support for each other, but we work closely with the Air Corps. The agreement with the Air Corps is not on a 24/7 basis.

“We provide support for the Air Corps in medical evacuations and patient transfer, and it supports us in top cover and pollution and other incidents,” he added.

The search operation yesterday was assisted by an Air Corps helicopter, which brought crew out to the island of Blackrock to inspect it for debris.

All agencies and local volunteers also carried out land searches for debris that has washed up on nearby shores.

The Irish Coast Guard posted a message of thanks on Facebook.

“During what is our darkest hours we find ourselves truly humbled by the out pouring of love and support both here at home and globally,” read the post.

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