Mayo helicopter crash: Recovered wreckage is from 'tail area'

The search for the black box is focused in waters around Blacksod lighthouse Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption The search teams are based at Blacksod on the Mayo coast

Air accident investigators have said an Irish coastguard helicopter that crashed off the coast of Mayo came "into contact with rocky surfaces".

The Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) said recovered wreckage is primarily from the tail area of the helicopter.

The Irish Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue 116 crashed off the coast of Mayo on Tuesday.

It was found close to the lighthouse on Blackrock island on Thursday evening.

A signal from the helicopter's black box had been located close by but poor weather conditions have hampered efforts to find the device.

In a statement, the AAIU said that a significant amount of wreckage has been recovered from the sea and there are marks "on some of the recovered wreckage which are consistent with the tail of the aircraft contacting rocky surfaces on the western end of Blackrock".

"The investigation has not yet definitively identified the initial point of impact."

It also said that the wreckage will be brought to the AAIU wreckage facility in Gormanston, Co Meath, for a "detailed examination".

The main focus of the search operation is to locate three missing crew. A fourth crew member died in hospital.

Irish chief air accident investigator Jurgen Whyte has said that no impact marks of significance were found on the lighthouse itself.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick was recovered from the sea, hours after the helicopter crashed in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

She was the mother of a young son and the most senior pilot with CHC which runs the contract to provide search and rescue services in the Republic of Ireland.

Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption Three of the four crew members are still missing

The search for chief pilot Mark Duffy and winchmen Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith continues.

Rescue teams picked up a signal from the Rescue 116 helicopter near Blackrock Lighthouse on Wednesday.

Accident investigators from the UK have joined the search for the black box with specialised equipment to assist the operation.

The Irish Navy, RNLI, police divers and fishing boats have been searching the coast off Mayo.

Irish coastguard helicopters

  • Five Sikorsky search-and-rescue helicopters deployed at bases in Dublin, Waterford, Shannon and Sligo
  • Respond to emergencies at sea, inland waterways, offshore islands and mountains across island of Ireland
  • Also used during flooding, major inland emergencies, intra-hospital transfers and aerial surveillance
  • Handle about 2,500 marine emergencies each year

Irish chief air accident investigator Jurgen Whyte described the location of a signal as "hugely significant" and said he hoped the recorder was in or near the helicopter wreckage.

The Irish naval ship, LÉ Eithne, is helping to co-ordinate the ongoing search and rescue operation.

The Dublin-based helicopter crew had been assisting colleagues from Sligo in a rescue operation on a UK fishing vessel about 150km (95 miles) west of Eagle Island.

Image caption A panel from the helicopter was brought ashore earlier this week

They lost contact at about 01:00 local time on Tuesday on a refuelling journey to Blacksod.

R116 from Dublin was sent to help the Sligo aircraft communicate with the base at Malin, as the fishing boat was too far out for the first helicopter to stay within communication range.

The Sligo crew picked up the fisherman, who had a serious hand injury, and transferred him to hospital.

Image caption The helicopter pad at Blacksod lighthouse where the helicopters refuelled

Shortly afterwards, communication was lost with the Dublin-based aircraft.

Conditions were described as good when the helicopter lost contact on its final approach to Blacksod refuelling depot.

It is the second fatal accident involving Irish Coastguard crew members over the past six months.

In September 2016, volunteer Coastguard Caitriona Lucas died while assisting in a rescue operation off the County Clare coast.

The mother-of-two was one of three crew members on board a rigid inflatable boat which flipped over during a search for a man near cliffs at Kilkee.

Irish coastguard helicopters have been used for a number of operations in Northern Ireland.

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