Ryan 'accepts' 42 recommendations in R116 helicopter crash report

Ryan 'accepts' 42 recommendations in R116 helicopter crash report

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, and winch men Ciarán Smith, and Paul Ormsby all lost their lives on March 14, 2017.

Transport minister Eamon Ryan has said that he fully accepts the recommendations in the report on the fatal R116 helicopter crash.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, chief pilot Mark Duffy, winch operator Paul Ormsby, and winchman Ciarán Smith were en route from Dublin to Blacksod in Co Mayo to refuel when the incident occurred in March 2017. 

The bodies of Ms Fitzpatrick and Mr Duffy were discovered after the crash, but those of Mr Ormsby and Mr Smith were never recovered.

A final report published two weeks ago found that CHC Ireland, which operated the helicopter on behalf of the Irish Coast Guard, did not have formalised, standardised, controlled, or periodic measures in the testing of routes in its flight management system route guide. The report makes 42 safety recommendations, which Mr Ryan told the Dáil earlier today that he will accept.

"The R116 accident on March 14, 2017, was an appalling tragedy," he said.

It claimed the lives of four people who, with consummate professionalism and total dedication, gave themselves to the task of saving others.

"I would like to take this opportunity to extend again my heartfelt sympathy to the families and loved ones of pilot Ms Dara Fitzpatrick, co-pilot Mr Mark Duffy, Mr Ciaran Smith, and Mr Paul Ormsby. I am sure that the Ceann Comhairle and every other member of this House extend their deepest sympathy to the families for the loss and for the brave work that their family members did.

"I recognise also the tremendous recovery effort in the days and weeks after the accident, often by people who knew them well, both professionals and volunteers, and they deserve our deep gratitude.

"In total, there are 71 findings and 42 safety recommendations, of which 10 findings and 14 safety recommendations are directly relevant to the Minister for Transport. 

I fully accept the recommendations addressed to me contained within the report."

Transport minister Eamon Ryan TD by Dublin Castle. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Transport minister Eamon Ryan TD by Dublin Castle. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

He said that it would take some time for his department to respond to the findings, before a 90-day timeframe to implement them. He said that the department had not waited for the report to begin updating its safety training.

"Training for personnel involved in decisions to launch Coast Guard helicopters is being provided to the Coast Guard by an authorised training organisation approved by the IAA," he said.

"Eight such courses have been held so far, encompassing some 70 staff, and courses are ongoing."

Sinn Féin's Darren O'Rourke said that there were many chances for the accident to be avoided.

"It is impossible to read the report without thinking that many opportunities to mitigate risk were missed and wondering if the tragedy on the morning of March 14, 2017, would have been avoided if instead of being missed, corrective and preventative actions had been realised. 

What might have happened if the systems of operation, training, support and oversight were to the standard required?"

His party colleague, Mayo TD Rose Conway-Walsh, said that the community had taken the crew's family "into their hearts".

Rose Conway-Walsh of Sinn Féin speaks to the media outside Leinster House. Picture: Damien Storan
Rose Conway-Walsh of Sinn Féin speaks to the media outside Leinster House. Picture: Damien Storan

"Those of us who live on the Mullet Peninsula and the wider Mayo area share a special affinity with these families and with the crew," she said.

The whole community took them into their hearts as the tragedy unfolded in the early hours of March 14, 2017. Their courage and dedication are forever remembered when we look out on Black Rock and Blacksod Bay. 

"I take this opportunity to thank all those in the community who were involved, all the agencies that were involved on the ground, the local gardaí, the RNLI people, the fishermen, and so many others who pulled together in that awful time following that terrible accident.

"We are constantly mindful that the bodies of winchmen Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith have not yet been recovered."

Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond echoed Mr O'Rourke in saying that warnings made four years before the accident that the Blackrock island was not on mapping software could have seen the accident avoided.

"We can all agree that while hindsight is 20-20, clearly, a major error was made here that cost four people their lives," he said.

"This is hugely worrying and disappointing both for the families affected by the R116 flight and the crew members, and their families, who currently operate search and rescue missions for the State. 

"We all deserve to be safe and protected at work, and this line of work is absolutely no different."

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