No distress call from Irish Coast Guard S-92 before crashing into water near Blackrock lighthouse in southwest Ireland. All crew feared lost.
In what appeared to be calm conditions, Dublin-based “Rescue 116”, a Sikorsky S-92 from the Irish Coast Guard crashed into the sea while providing cover for a second helicopter, Rescue 118 during a rescue operation off the coast of Mayo, off the southwest coast of Ireland early Tuesday morning.
The crash reported having occurred at approximately 1 am Tuesday local time as Rescue 116 was returning to Blacksod to refuel. Director of the Irish Coast Guard, Eugene Clonan stated during an interview on local Irish television that communication was normal with Rescue 116 as of 12:45 am when they aircraft reported it was returning to Blacksod to refuel. The other helicopter, Rescue 118 immediately began a search for the downed helicopter and crew, locating surface debris less than two miles from Black Rock Lighthouse, situated approximately six miles from the Blacksod refueling point.
Ground-based rescue efforts commenced shortly after the report, carried out by an RNLI lifeboat that located a crew member from the aircraft at approximately 7 am local time, who was then transported to an awaiting helicopter and airlifted to a local hospital where it was announced the crew member did not survive.
The crew member recovered from the ocean was identified as Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, a veteran Coast Guard pilot and long-time employee of contract provider CHC Helicopters. The three crew still missing have been named as Captain Mark Duffy, Rescue crew member Ciarán Smith and Winch Operator and Crewmember Paul Ormsby.
The air search for the missing crew members has been scaled back overnight, but the sea search will continue with assistance from ships LÉ Eithne, the LÉ Roísín that are both equipped with side scan sonar technology that is capable of scanning the sea floor. The technology is usually used for mapping but will assist recovery crews in locating the aircraft on the sea floor as Garda dive teams evaluate the possibility of performing dives in the area once the wreckage is found. Air assets including an AW139 from the Irish Air Corps will be used for sea searches until efforts are scaled back at the scene concentrating on the area where the first wreckage was first located 8 miles from the Blackrock lighthouse.
Fitzpatrick, 45, was a mother to an adopted three-year-old son. Fitzpatrick was a highly accomplished pilot, having spent the last twenty years employed as a pilot with CHC flying many aircraft including both the S-61 Sea King and the Sikorsky S-92 throughout her career flying both search and rescue and oil & gas transportation missions. Fitzpatrick was also an Irish aviation trailblazer, becoming the first female commercial helicopter pilot and first female captain in Ireland. She was also one of two female Coast Guard pilots who made Irish aviation history three years ago by flying the first all-woman mission for the service.
Ciarán Smith was a former Corporal and winchman with the Irish Air Corps from Oldtown in Dublin and worked in rescue roles for the past 15 years. Smith was a married father of three young children.
Helicopter pilot Mark Duffy lived in nearby Blackrock and was a married father of two children who began flying rescue operations in 2002. Duffy trained in the US and spent seven years in the US Coast Guard stationed at Air Station San Francisco.
CHC when contacted about the crash, issued a statement from CEO Karl Fessenden that read “Earlier today, there was an accident involving one of our S92 search and rescue aircraft off the west coast of Ireland. At approximately 0100 local time, contact with the aircraft was lost, and a major search and rescue operation commenced off the County Mayo coast, approximately six miles west of Blacksod. That search continues. Today is a very sad day for all of the CHC family, but particularly for our team in Ireland. We are devastated by this morning’s tragic accident, and our hearts are with the crew and the families of the crews involved. On behalf of everyone at CHC, we would like to extend our gratitude to all of the emergency services and organizations involved in the search, rescue and recovery mission underway, including the CHC team in Ireland as they participate in the search for their colleagues.”
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