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R116 crew inquests to open in Belmullet on Thursday


RECOVERED The body of Capt Dara Fitzpatrick was recovered but two of her colleagues from the R116 helicopter remain missing.

Anton McNulty

THE preliminary inquests into the death of the four crew members of the Coast Guard rescue helicopter which crashed off the Blacksod coast is to open this Thursday.
The four crew members of the rescue helicopter, R116, died when the helicopter crashed into Blackrock Island in Blacksod Bay on March 14 last. The bodies of the crew members, Commander Dara Fitzpatrick and co-pilot Captain Mark Duffy, were recovered but their colleagues, Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith, have never been found despite an extensive search.
The inquests into the deaths of the four crew members is to open in Belmullet Courthouse this Thursday, March 1 before Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald, the Coroner for North Mayo. It is hoped that the Coroner will be in a position to formally identify the bodies of Commander Fitzpatrick and Capt Duffy to allow their deaths to be formally registered.
However, it is expected that the inquest will be adjourned soon after it commences as separate investigations by An Garda Siochána and the Accident Air Investigation Unit have yet to be completed.
The crew were providing top cover for the Sligo-based R118 rescue helicopter as it performed a medical evacuation of a fishing vessel located over 100 miles off the Mayo coast. They were returning to Blacksod to refuel when they struck the island located approximately 12km from the Blacksod coast.
The preliminary report which was carried out by the Air Accident Collision Unit last April found that Blackrock, which has an elevation of 282 ft and contains a lighthouse, was not featured on the helicopter’s Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS).
The EGPWS also provides a digital terrain map that allows the pilot to view a representation of terrain and obstacles ahead, provided these are contained in the databases.
The recording of the crew taken from data recorder on R116 showed that their first indication of Blackrock was just 13 seconds before the fatal impact when a rear crew member identified an island, probably through the use of the infrared camera.
The last contact with R116 was at 12.46am on March 14 and the first indication it was missing was at 1.06am. At 1.08am, the Blacksod lighthouse advised that they had no contact with R116 and at 1.13am, Malin Head Marine Rescue Sub Centre issued a May Day which launched the extensive search.
Commander Fitzpatrick was found shortly after the accident by the Achill lifeboat but died soon afterwards while the body of Captain Duffy was recovered from the cockpit on March 26.
The search for the missing two crew members involved a number of state agencies as well as local volunteers and fishermen and extended as far north as Donegal Bay. A helmet and lifejacket belonging to one of the missing crew was discovered in late September but their bodies have never been recovered.

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