Republic of Ireland news

Missing Irish coast guard helicopter: Crews continue searches

From the top left, clockwise Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, winchman Ciaran Smith and winchman Paul Orsmby. Picture by Irish Coast Guard/PA Wire
Ed Carty and Brian Hutton, Press Association

SEARCH teams looking for three crewmen from an Irish Coast Guard helicopter that crashed into the Atlantic are hoping the weather will clear tomorrow or Thursday to allow them to examine the seabed.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny visited the mission at Blacksod, Co Mayo, yesterday and said the families of the crew need answers as it emerged a submersible vehicle or divers could be sent into the 40m deep ocean later in the week.

"What we need now to find out here is what happened," Mr Kenny said.

"There are four families involved in this. They need to know, obviously to bring closure to this, but also in respect of the service itself and the facilities that are provided, to find out the actual facts of how this tragedy occurred."

A 100m by 100m zone of ocean beside Blackrock Lighthouse, about 13km offshore, was scanned over the weekend using sonar.

The site is where the Dublin-based Rescue 116 aircraft is believed to lie after crashing without warning last Tuesday morning. It was returning to refuel at Blacksod after supporting a rescue mission 240km out in the Atlantic.

The area was mapped and cleared for the Irish Lights vessel, the Granuaile, to manoeuvre into position alongside the Irish Naval Service ship LE Eithne when a wide enough weather window clears.

Signals are still being emitted from the Sikorsky S92's black box, Irish Coast Guard spokesman Declan Geoghegan said.

"We've been building up a picture of the seabed and surroundings at Blackrock with a view to having the first dive or sending down a remotely operated vehicle (ROV)," he said.

The prospects of a dive emerged as the Taoiseach was taken out to sea and boarded the LE Eithne to be briefed on the operation.

While search teams are confident they are looking in the right area for the black box, they will not know if it remains attached to the missing helicopter fuselage, or if the fuselage remains intact, until divers or underwater vehicles are deployed.

Some wreckage was found in the initial searches.

It is hoped the black box recorder - fitted behind the cockpit seats - is still attached to the bulk of the helicopter wreckage, or near it, and that the three missing crewmen will be inside.

Dive teams will also be considering the nature of going down into such deep water - using mixed gas, an umbilical cable air feed or saturated dive.

The funeral took place in Glencullen, Co Dublin, on Saturday for Captain Dara Fitzpatrick (45) - the only one of the four crew recovered from the ocean so far.

The other crew members - Captain Mark Duffy, Winchman Ciaran Smith and Winch Operator Paul Ormsby - remain missing.

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