Loss of R116 lives ‘needless and preventable’

The final report of an air accident investigation unit (AAIU) report into the tragic accident that killed the four crew members of the Rescue 116 coast guard helicopter in March 2017 was published on 5th November.

The remains of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick and Captain Mark Duffy were found after the crash. The bodies of the other two crew members – winch operator Paul Ormsby and winchman Ciarán Smith – remain lost at sea.

The report found that ‘navigational issues’ were a major contributory factor in the crash off the Mayo coast, and raised questions over whether the ill-fated operation should have been undertaken at all.

R116 crashed into Blackrock Island, which was not identified as an obstacle on the helicopter’s flight management system.

The AAIU, whose reports do not seek to apportion blame, also said that the helicopter operator, CHC Ireland, lacked a “formalised, standardised, controlled or periodic” system to review flight routes.

And it cited inadequate oversight of helicopter operations by the transport department and Irish Coast Guard, while concluding that there was lack of clarity over the Irish Aviation Authority’s role in the regulation of search and rescue flights.

The Irish Airline Pilots’ Association, which is a branch of Fórsa, said the report underlined that the loss of life “was as needless as it was preventable,” and said the tragic and unnecessary loss of life must not be allowed to happen again.

“The report outlines a number of regulatory and systemic issues which conspired to put the crew in lethal danger. Prime amongst them was the provision of inaccurate and misleading chart and map data. IALPA is calling on the Government and Minister for Transport to institute an immediate review of the failures identified in this report, and to bring forward concrete proposals to address each and every identified failure immediately,” it said.

The Irish Aviation Authority said it fully accepted the report’s recommendations that were addressed to the IAA, and said they had either been implemented or were proceeding to full implementation.

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