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Crash Site of Lost Royal Navy ‘Dragonfly’ Helicopter Discovered in Lough Foyle

5th November 2022
Jonny McNee of the DAERA marine plan team photographs the rotor and rotor blades of the discovered Royal Navy Dragonfly helicopter
Jonny McNee of the DAERA marine plan team photographs the rotor and rotor blades of the discovered Royal Navy Dragonfly helicopter Credit: DAERA

The crash site of a rare Royal Navy helicopter lost in 1958 has been discovered as part of a scientific survey of the Northern Ireland coastline.

Remnants of the aircraft were initially spotted in aerial photos of Lough Foyle as part of the Northern Ireland 3D Coastal Survey, commissioned by NI’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA).

But it was a further physical inspection of the site that revealed the wreck of the Dragonfly, an early example of a military helicopter, lying on its starboard side on the gravelly bank.

Though heavily corroded, the frame of the helicopter and its three rotor blades were mostly intact, with remnants of the ‘Royal Navy’ stencilling still discernible down the tail boom.

Further research involving officials from the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Plymouth, the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton and the Ulster Aviation Society identified the aircraft as a 1955 Westland Dragonfly naval air-sea search and rescue helicopter, which was based at the Royal Naval Air Station Eglinton, now the City of Derry Airport. The helicopter had come down on 25 November 1958, during a recovery exercise.

The discovery of the Dragonfly was an unexpected find during the Topographic LiDAR & Orthophotography survey, which was completed in early 2022.

This survey has provided high-resolution aerial photographs, near-infrared imagery and 3D laser scans of the ground surface to provide detailed information on what the NI coastline looks like, as well as identify human-made structure and landscape features at risk from coastal erosion and rising sea levels.

Marine archaeologists are using this data to identify and assess archaeological and historical sites that lie around Northern Ireland’s coastline. These can include historic wrecks, medieval fish-traps, monastic settlements, castles and fortifications, quays, slipways, and Industrial-era seaweed cultivation sites.

While many of the sites examined are recorded on the Historic Environment Record of Northern Ireland (HERoNI), the research has so far identified over 150 new heritage sites, with 100 of these below the high-tide mark.

The exact position of the helicopter wreck is not being released as the crash site is located on dangerous soft sediment and a significant number of potentially live Second World War and post-war ordnance surround the site.

Further information on the find will be available on a new website, The Northern Ireland Coastal Observatory, which DAERA says will be launched in the near future.

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