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Rescue 116 Crash Draft Final Report: Ross Appoints Senior Counsel to Chair Review

12th March 2020
R116 Coastguard Helicopter R116 Coastguard Helicopter

Almost three years after four Irish Coast Guard aircrew lost their lives in a helicopter crash off the north Mayo coast, a senior counsel has been appointed to chair a review into aspects of the State investigator's final report writes Lorna Siggins

Minister for Transport Shane Ross has appointed senior counsel Patrick McCann to chair the review of the draft final report which has not yet been published by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU).

Mr McCann will be assisted by an “independent expert member”, Mr Ross said on Wednesday in a statement announcing the establishment of the review board – two months after it was first sought.

Mr Ross said that the review board would “re-examine certain findings of the draft final report”.

Mr Ross’s department had confirmed back in early January that a review had been requested by a “stakeholder”, which it would not identify.

It said then that “arrangements are being put in place” to set this board up, and confirmed the review would be held in private.

CHC Ireland, which employed the four air crew who died – Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy, and winch crew Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith - declined to say whether it sought the review.

The four air/sea rescue helicopter crew died when their Sikorsky S-92 hit Blackrock island off north Mayo in the early hours of March 14, 2017. The bodies of Ormsby and Smith have not been found to date.

Under the Air Navigation (Notification and Investigation of Accidents, Serious Incidents and Incidents) Regulations 2009, an “interested party” may serve on the minister written “notice of re-examination”.

This is “in respect of findings and conclusions that appear to reflect adversely on the person’s reputation”.

CHC Ireland holds the ten-year Irish Coast Guard search and rescue contract, which is worth €50m a year and is due to expire in 2022, though an extension could be allowed to 2025. Work has already begun on preparing a new tender.

The AAIU ruled out mechanical failure early on in its preliminary report into the crash, and an interim report was published a year after the crash. An interim statement was published on March 1st, 2019.

The AAIU has already identified in its preliminary report that the Dublin-based crew were flying with inaccurate chart information and faulty installation of satellite locators in the pilots’ lifejackets.

Rescue 116 had been tasked on the night of March 13th 2017 to provide “top cover” support to the Sligo-based Rescue 118 helicopter for a medical evacuation off the west coast. It was approaching Blacksod lighthouse to refuel when it collided with Blackrock island nine nautical miles to the west.

The AAIU’s draft final report was issued on September 13th, 2019 to “interested parties”, including the four bereaved families and CHC Ireland. The parties were given 60 days to review this report and offer comments.

“The review board will be chaired by senior counsel Patrick McCann who will be assisted by an independent expert member. The review board will be entirely independent in its work in accordance with the relevant legislation,” Mr Ross’s statement said.

The AAIU said last January that it would continue to handle submissions in relation to the draft conclusions.

The review board’s chair must be a barrister or solicitor of 10 years’ standing, or a person who, in the minister’s opinion, has “aeronautical or engineering knowledge”.

The Minister may also appoint one or more technical assessors. A report is compiled for the minister if the re-examination proceeds.

Published in News Update, Coastguard
Lorna Siggins

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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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