Up to 1,000 people mobilise in effort to bring missing crew ‘home’

Up to 1,000 people will this weekend mobilise in an air, sea, and land search for missing R116 helicopter crew members Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith.

Up to 1,000 people mobilise in effort to bring missing crew ‘home’

Fishing vessels from Mayo, Sligo, and Donegal will come together in a fleet of approximately 100 boats to comb a 1,000 sq km area of the north-west coast.

Today is day 26 of the search operation for the Irish Coast Guard R116, after the helicopter crashed off the Mayo coast, near Blackrock lighthouse, on March 14.

While the craft has been retrieved and the bodies of Captain Mark Duffy and Captain Dara Fitzpatrick have been found, the search continues for Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith.

This week, Ciarán’s sister Orla Smith made an appeal to all fishermen to help bring the missing crew members “home”.

Orla Smith, sister of missing winchman Ciarán Smith.
Orla Smith, sister of missing winchman Ciarán Smith.

“When that call went out that was the impetus for us. We had been wanting to help but that call copperfastened it for us,” Sean O’Donoghue, chief executive of the Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, told the Irish Examiner.

“We have huge empathy with the Irish Coast Guard, all the times they’ve saved our lives.”

The 1,000 sq km sea area is divided into eight boxes, going as far out to sea as 100km from Donegal Bay and covers the coast from Blackrock lighthouse to Arranmore Island.

The extensive search area which will be covered, with over 100 fishing vessels involved.
The extensive search area which will be covered, with over 100 fishing vessels involved.

Gerard Flynn, head of search operations for the Irish Coast Guard, explained the weekend’s proceedings. “From a safety perspective, we learned that they (fishing vessels) wanted to become involved in the search and it is being done in conjunction with the RNLI and the Irish Coast Guard.

“The area will be divided and a local Coast Guard rib or RNLI boat will be assigned to each division. It’s a very, very strong message from the fishing community,” said Mr Flynn.

“The contribution by volunteers is an integral part of the search and I want to continue my thanks to them, from Irish Coast Guard and RNLI volunteers to Civil Defence members and the local community.”

This weekend’s search operation will cover air, sea and land.
This weekend’s search operation will cover air, sea and land.

Mr Flynn explained how the search operation is divided into four elements: Air (using Irish Coast Guard, Air Corps helicopters, and Civil Defence drones); sea surface (using the RNLI, Irish Naval ships, and vessels of opportunity); sub-surface (using the Marine Institute and the Air Accident Investigation Unit on board the Granuaile); and shoreside (using local coast guards and Civil Defence volunteers).

“The Coast Guard is assisting An Garda Síochána and the Air Accident Investigation Unit in conjunction with other agencies,” he said.

Sixty vessels will come from the Killybegs area. There will be approximately 400 fishermen onboard the vessels.

Another 40 vessels are from the Mayo area and there will be about 120 fishermen onboard these.

They will begin combing the area from 6.30am today and will work on into tomorrow.

Up to 100 locals from the Mullet peninsula will support the huge sea search this weekend.

“We have boxes of food prepared for the boats — tea, coffee, rolls — and they will be distributed from various locations around the coast out on to the boats,” said John Gallagher, chairman of Comharchumann (co-op) Forbartha Ionad Deirbhile, in Eachléim.

He said the centre has been receiving financial donations from all around Ireland, including €3,000 from the Aran Islands, as well as from emergency service staff in Beaumont Hospital.

Separate to the 600-plus volunteers, there will be more than 100 staff carrying out searches from the various state agencies and voluntary bodies such as the Civil Defence and RNLI.

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