On March 13th of last year, coastguard helicopter Rescue 116, which was assisting in a rescue off the coast of Mayo, crashed into Blackrock Island. All four crew members died in the crash: Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, Winch Operator Paul Ormsby and Winchman Ciarán Smith. To date, the bodies of Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith have not been recovered. Katie Hannon, a political correspondent with Prime Time who has followed the events following the crash for the past year, joined Sean O’Rourke in studio this morning to discuss the tragedy and the efforts that have been made since that day to recover the remains of the crew members who remain missing.
Katie acknowledged that any discussion of the accident has to take place with due consideration for the families of crew members.
“I’m really, really conscious as we discuss this today that there are four families out there who lost loved ones on this day and this is going to be a very difficult day for them. But, as you say, particularly difficult for Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith’s families.”
Praising the lengths the community went to help with the search, Katie told Sean that unfortunately, there has been little sign of the missing crew members.
“We know that last September the life-jacket that Ciarán Smith wore was washed up and was discovered…what was the most striking thing about that community down there was the numbers, the sheer numbers of people who were out walking the shorelines, the numbers of fishermen who were out trying to do everything they could…it was just the most massive community effort.”
Katie believes that the desire to help stems from a feeling in the community that they are indebted to the rescue crew.
“These are the people who are normally side-by-side with us looking for our loved ones when they go missing. Because of course, it’s a fishing community. It’s a coastal community and the effort and the grief in that community in this week last year was really something to behold.”
Katie explained while “we are still in the dark” regarding an official cause of the crash, a preliminary report thirty days after the crash “ruled out mechanical failure” and gave two safety recommendations relating to route guides and the ground proximity warning system, which is a “last-resort” safety measure that interacts with a database of terrain.
“The shortcoming of the system is that it’s operating off a database and the database has to be updated with all the terrain in the area that aircraft is in. And unfortunately, it was discovered that Blackrock Island, that Rescue 116 crashed into, was not in the database of that warning system.”
Upon investigating matters further, Katie discovered more “very serious anomalies” in this system, affecting locations like Skellig Michael, Inishtearaght and Achill Island.
“We found mountains with the wrong spot heights on them. We found another island with no terrain, is you looked at the map you would think you were looking at a flat island…For instance, Achill Island…there’s two very significant peaks on it. To look at the map and the colour and tinting that was used, would show that there was no peak at all.”
Listen back to the whole segment on Today with Sean O’Rourke here.
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