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Interim Statement On Rescue 116 Tragedy Calls For ‘Thorough Review’ Of Irish SAR Operations

18th March 2018
Rescue 116 pictured over Wicklow in August 2015 Rescue 116 pictured over Wicklow in August 2015 Photo: Greg Clarke/Flickr

#Rescue116 - The Air Accident Investigation Unit has called for “a thorough review of search and rescue aviation operations in Ireland” in the wake of the Rescue 116 tragedy one year ago.

Four Irish Coast Guard crew — Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, Capt Mark Duffy, winch operator Paul Ormsby and winchman Ciaran Smith — were lost when their Sikorsky S-92A helicopter went down at Black Rock island, off Blacksod in Co Mayo, in the early hours of 14 March 2017.

The AAIU  confirmed in January that due to the “depth and breadth” of its investigation into the incident, a final report would not be completed within the first year, and progress would be detailed in an interim statement.

Published on Friday (16 March) days after commemorations in Mayo for the four Rescue 116 crew, this statement called on the Minister for Transport to conduct “a thorough review” of air-based SAR “to ensure that there are appropriate processes, resources and personnel in place to provide effective, continuous, comprehensive and independent oversight of all aspects of these operations.”

The statement also highlighted an issue with the “coarseness” of position data recorded by the helicopter’s flight data recorder, suggesting upgrades or modifications “to ensure that the latitude and longitude information recorded on the Flight Data Recorder reflects the most accurate position information available during all flight regimes and mission profiles.”

And it urged coastguard helicopter operator CHC Ireland to conduct an internal review of its safety management systems, or SMS, after the investigation raised “concerns regarding its efficacy”.
Interim safety recommendations included in last April’s preliminary report remain open, the AAIU says.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross welcomed the publication of the AAIU interim statement on Friday, and said he has asked his department to ensure that the recommended review of SAR aviation operations “is instigated without delay”.

“The aim of this review will be to ensure that our arrangements in this regard are sufficiently robust and measure up to international best practice models,” Minister Ross added.

Noting the length of the investigation, the minister said it was “important to emphasise” that the AAIU’s work remains in progress.

“Whilst I understand the ongoing public interest in this matter, it is vital that the AAIU is given the time and space to complete its work and report on its findings,” he said. “As such, I am not in position to comment further on the issues surrounding it.”

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