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Meitheal: The Story of a Search - Documentary on Rescue 116 Crash Due to be Broadcast by RTÉ

14th August 2022
Rescue 118 landing at Blacksod lighthouse
Rescue 118 landing at Blacksod lighthouse

“They were our friends, our colleagues...it was just hard to comprehend that we were trying to rescue the rescuers themselves...”

These are some of the comments made by members of a Mayo community, recorded by filmmaker Fergus Sweeney, for a documentary he has made in the aftermath of the crash of Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116.

Sweeney, nephew of Blacksod lighthouse keeper Vincent Sweeney, found himself at the heart of the initial response when the Sikorsky S-92 was reported missing in the early hours of March 14th, 2017.

All four crew, Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy and winch team Ciaran Smith and Paul Ormsby, died after the helicopter clipped Blackrock island while en route into Blacksod to refuel.

“Meitheal - The Story of a Search” is an independent film by cameraman and filmmaker Fergus Sweeney. The documentary tells the story of how the small rural community of Erris on the Irish Westcoast found themselves at the heart of a 42 day search for the crew of Irish Coastguard helicopter Rescue 116.“Meitheal - The Story of a Search” is an independent film by cameraman and filmmaker Fergus Sweeney. The documentary tells the story of how the small rural community of Erris on the Irish Westcoast found themselves at the heart of a 42 day search for the crew of Irish Coastguard helicopter Rescue 116.

A search that would lead the community on a journey of grief, emotion and Inspiration.

The bodies of Capt Fitzpatrick and Capt Duffy were recovered, but the winch crew are still missing.

In the documentary, community members say their search for the two men continues.

Sweeney records the impact of the crash on the locality, and interviews local Coast Guard members, including Michael Hurst and those who provided daily sustenance during the 40-day effort in the community hall at Eachléim.

The helicopter had been tasked to provide top cover for the Sligo-based Rescue 118 helicopter in a medical evacuation in the Atlantic.

The "probable cause" of the crash was identified by the Air Accident Investigation Unit as a combination of the helicopter's altitude, poor weather and the crew being unaware of a 282ft obstacle on the flight path of a pre-programmed route they were using.

A further 12 contributory causes were identified by the AAIU in the 350-page report.

They included "serious and important" weaknesses with how CHC Ireland managed route testing and mitigation; "confusion” at State level on responsibility for oversight of search and rescue operations; the positioning of a route waypoint almost "coincident" with Blackrock Island; and "crew members' likely hours of wakefulness at the time of the accident".

Meitheal: The Story of a Search is due to be broadcast on RTÉ 1 television on Tuesday, August 16th, at 10.30 pm.

Meitheal: The Story of a Search is due to be broadcast on RTÉ 1 television on Tuesday, August 16th, at 10.30 pm.

Published in Maritime TV
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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