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Coastguard Helicopter Operators Warned Over Lifejacket Beacon Issues Years Before Rescue 116 Tragedy

26th October 2017
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Rescue 116 pictured over Wicklow in August 2015 Rescue 116 pictured over Wicklow in August 2015 Photo: Greg Clarke/Flickr

#Rescue116 - Lifejackets worn by the crew of the downed Rescue 116 were not fit for purpose — and the operators of Ireland’s coastguard rescue helicopter service knew five years beforehand.

That’s according to a report set to be broadcast on RTÉ One’s Prime Time at 9.35pm tonight (Thursday 26 October), which reveals that pilots had warned management at CHC Ireland that locator beacons on supplied lifejackets were fitted too close to the GPS antenna, contrary to manufacturer’s guidelines.

“Effectively this means that the beacon could produce absolutely zero receivable transmissions,” said a 2014 safety report filed by one crew member, while another warned that “pilots are wholly exposed in the event of a ditching”.

The Air Accident Investigation Unit’s preliminary report in April recommended a review of the use of locator beacons on Mk 44 lifejackets used by the crew of Rescue 116.

The crash on 14 March caused the deaths of Capt Dara Fitzpatrick and Capt Mark Duffy. The bodies of Paul Ormsby and winchman Ciaran Smith remain lost at sea.

While the installation issue only applies to the pilots’ lifejackets, which have since been withdrawn from service, the Prime Time report will also cover documents that identify similar issues with those worn by winch crew across the Irish Coast Guard fleet.

The new revelations come after a previous Prime Time report this summer said the issue of missing data from the helicopter’s onboard warning system was flagged four years ago with senior management at CHC Ireland, which won a 10-year contract to operate the Irish Coast Guard’s helicopter SAR services in 2012.

Published in Coastguard
MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy

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MacDara Conroy is a contributor covering all things on the water, from boating and wildlife to science and business

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