2017 Irish Coast Guard Rescue 116 crash

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2017 Irish Coast Guard Rescue 116 crash
EI-ICR, Sikorsky S92, Irish Coast Guard, Callsign "RESCUE 115".jpg
EI-ICR, the aircraft involved in the accident
Accident summary
Date 14 March 2017
Summary Lost at sea during SAR mission; wreckage located
Site Atlantic Ocean 10km west off Blacksod Bay, County Mayo, Republic of Ireland
Crew 4
Fatalities 1
Missing 3
Aircraft type Sikorsky S-92A
Operator CHC Helicopter for Irish Coast Guard
Registration EI-ICR

On 14 March 2017, at 12:45 am local time, a Sikorsky S-92A operated by CHC Helicopter under contract to the Irish Coast Guard (call sign Rescue 116 based at Dublin) crashed into the Atlantic Ocean while providing top cover for the Sligo-based search and rescue helicopter, Rescue 118, during a rescue mission off the west coast of Mayo, Ireland. One of the crew members, Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, was found and later pronounced dead in hospital and three other members of the crew; Captain Mark Duffy, Winch Operator Paul Ormsby and Winchman Ciarán Smith are still missing. The search and rescue operation is still ongoing.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]


The Irish Coast Guard last had communication from Rescue 116 at 12:45 am local time as it was making its approach to Blacksod Bay to refuel.[8] Refuelling is a common practice in a long-range and lengthy SAR mission. The helicopter itself did not make any mayday call, but disappeared from air traffic control radar, prompting a mayday. Rescue 118 completed the medical evacuation of an injured fisherman 250 kilometres (160 mi) west of Blacksod, for which both helicopters had been originally tasked.

Two other helicopters under contract from CHC Helicopter to the Irish Coast Guard were deployed to the search area, along with a CASA CN-235 maritime patrol aircraft from the Irish Air Corps. The Irish Naval Service offshore patrol vessel Róisín arrived in the search zone at 9:00 am on 14 March. RNLI vessels and divers from the Naval Service Diving Section and Garda Water Unit were also sent to the scene. Investigators from the Air Accident Investigation Unit attended the scene on the same day. The Naval Service flagship Eithne joined the search effort that afternoon, and both Naval Service vessels continued the search throughout the night and into the next day. The Eithne was made on-scene coordinator of the recovery mission. The Marine Institute's Celtic Voyager was dispatched on the night of 14 March to search using multibeam echosounders for the wreckage.[9] On the afternoon of 15 March, a signal transmitting from the helicopter's flight recorder had been received. The signal emanated at around 50 metres (160 ft) southwest of the Blackrock lighthouse.[10]

On 16 March, AAIU investigators were airlifted onto the helipad at Blackrock lighthouse, where a significant section of wreckage from Rescue 116 was found on the high rocky island, which is 19 kilometres (12 mi) west of the shore at Blacksod Bay.[11]

Air Corps resources

In the aftermath of the incident, the Defence Forces said in a statement that the Air Corps had originally been contacted at 10:06 pm on 13 March by the Coast Guard, with a request to provide top cover to Rescue 118 which was tasked with evacuating a fisherman to hospital from a vessel 250 kilometres (160 mi) west of the Mayo. In the Service Level Agreement (SLA) between the Department of Defence and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the "provision and tasking of Air Corps assets [is] on an 'as available' basis".[12] The Air Corps denied the request because of a staff shortage in experienced and trained personnel, which made it unable to operate an "out-of-hours" roster.[13] This meant Rescue 116 was deployed instead to provided top cover. Following the Blacksod incident, an Irish Times report highlighted how resourcing issues delayed the Air Corps involvement in the rescue, and highlighted that Air Corps' CASA maritime patrol fixed-wing aircraft have advantages over CHC operated helicopters in top-cover situations, in that they can arrive "twice as fast" and "remain circling in its higher vantage point for up to nine hours".[14]

At 1:45 am, an hour after last contact from Rescue 116, the Coast Guard made an emergency request for assistance to the Air Corps to help search for the missing SAR helicopter. The Air Corps activated its recall plan and 3 hours and 45 minutes after the Coast Guard's initial request for top cover, a CASA CN-235 maritime patrol aircraft was airborne.[15][14]

The Defence Forces said that in 2017 three requests for top cover had to be refused due to reduced availability. Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny, who is also Minister for Defence, said that it was "well known" that the Air Corps had lost a number of personnel such as pilots and air traffic controllers in recent years. Minister with responsibility for Defence Paul Kehoe said that reduction in the capacity of the Air Corps was notified in summer 2016 to agencies and that the Department of Defence had made other arrangements in that regard.[16][15]

Wreckage recovered

On 22 March, wreckage from R116 was found after it was suggested that the helicopter could have crashed into the island where Blackrock Lighthouse is situated. There were hopes that the bodies of the missing crew members could be found in the wreckage.


  1. ^ "Search continues for three members of Coast Guard helicopter crew". The Journal.ie. 14 March 2017. Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  2. ^ "Latest: Capt. Dara Fitzpatrick leaves behind 'heartbroken' family and 3-year-old son; 3 missing crew named". Breaking News IE. 14 March 2017. Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  3. ^ "Search wound down for crew of missing Coast Guard". ITV News. 14 March 2017. Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  4. ^ Hutton, Brian (14 March 2017). "1 dead in search for Irish Coast Guard helicopter and crew". Edinburgh Evening News. Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  5. ^ "Irish coastguard pilot Captain Dara Fitzpatrick dies after crash". BBC News. 14 March 2017. Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  6. ^ McGrath, Graham (14 March 2017). "One found and three crewmen missing in Irish Coast Guard helicopter search". Extra.ie. Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  7. ^ "One dead, three missing in Coast Guard helicopter crash". RTÉ. 14 March 2017. Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  8. ^ Siggins, Lorna; Gleeson, Colin; Pollak, Sorcha (14 March 2017). "Search for Coast Guard crew continues after one death confirmed". The Irish Times. Retrieved 14 March 2017. 
  9. ^ "Scanning equipment used in search for missing Coast Guard crew". RTÉ. 15 March 2017. Retrieved 15 March 2017. 
  10. ^ Siggins, Lorna (15 March 2017). "Coast Guard helicopter search: Faint 'chirp' from black box located". The Irish Times. Retrieved 16 March 2017. 
  11. ^ Siggins, Lorna (17 March 2017). "Coast Guard helicopter wreckage found at lighthouse". The Irish Times. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  12. ^ "SLA IRCG DOD" (PDF). Retrieved 18 March 2017. 
  13. ^ Williams, Paul (19 March 2017). "'Crisis' in the Defence Forces means our Air Corps are effectively working 9-to-5". Irish Independent. Retrieved 22 March 2017. 
  14. ^ a b Murtagh, Peter (17 March 2017). "Staff shortage initially curbed Defence Forces' role in Blacksod emergency". The Irish Times. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  15. ^ a b McGreevy, Ronan (16 March 2017). "Defence Forces staff shortage led to Rescue 116 being deployed". The Irish Times. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
  16. ^ "Air Corps personnel shortages 'well known' - Taoiseach". RTE News. 16 March 2017. Retrieved 17 March 2017. 
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