Belfast Telegraph

Colleagues' 'hearts and thoughts' with family of Coast Guard who died at sea

Rescue teams which recovered the body of an Irish Coast Guard pilot from the Atlantic seabed have said their hearts go out to the family.

Captain Mark Duffy's remains had been trapped for days in the cockpit of Rescue 116 off Blackrock island, about 13km (eight miles) off the coast of Co Mayo.

The wreck lies 40m down.

After a robot submersible worked through the night to cut away some of the cockpit Naval Service divers were sent down in relays, with only eight minutes at a time on the seabed, to free the pilot's remains.

His body is the second of the four crew to have been recovered after the Sikorsky S92 crashed 12 days ago while on a rescue mission.

The body of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, a 45-year-old mother-of-one, was the first to have been recovered from the ocean.

The other crew members are Winchman Ciaran Smith and Winch Operator Paul Ormsby and searches continue for them both at the wreck site and along the north Mayo coast and into Donegal bay.

Superintendent Tony Healy said relatives were being comforted while the body is taken to Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar for a post-mortem.

"It's obviously a very upsetting time for them but I mean it's the recovery of a loved one (which) is good news from that point of view but it's a tragic loss," he said.

Micheal O'Toole, Irish Coast Guard on scene coordinator, said: "It's a very poignant day, very sad and very poignant, we have recovered one of our colleagues.

"Our hearts and our thoughts are specifically with the family today."

The black box, which holds the flight data and voice records, was taken from the wreckage on Friday and flown to Farnborough in England.

Some water is believed to have seeped into the unit and Ireland's Air Accident Investigations Unit (AAIU) hopes the specialist facilities in the UK will allow the unit to be dried and the data downloaded.

Investigators believe the tail of Rescue 116 hit rocks on the western end of the island as it returned from supporting a rescue mission to refuel at Blacksod.

There was no indication of any danger moments before the Sikorsky S92 vanished, with the crew's final transmission: "Shortly landing at Blacksod."

Captain Duffy's body was brought to the pier in Blacksod by Naval Service officers, including Lieutenant Commander Darragh Kirwan and Lieutenant Dan Humphries, officer in charge of the Naval Service dive section.

Lt Cmdr Kirwan said: "It's not lost on us that the families are all here as well.

"At the end of the day it is about the families.

"It would be on our minds, first of all for the divers to be successful this morning and to bring back the body of one of the crew members and obviously to give some respect and dignity on the journey back in and to be able to effectively offer ceremony to the recovery of that body when we brought it back ashore."

The coffin, draped in the Irish Tricolour, was driven off the pier with a lone piper leading the cortege.

Behind the hearse scores of Irish Coast Guard staff and others involved in the search and recovery over the last 12 days formed a guard of honour and escorted the remains out of the village.

A few miles away in the village of Aghleam scores of local parents and children gathered at the roadside to pay their respects.

The search continues for the bodies of the two remaining crew.

The next phase of the operation is to move the five tonne gear box and engine section of the wreckage in a bid to find the bodies of the winchmen.

Specialist equipment is available on board the Irish Lights Vessel Granuaile to shift the wreckage.

Jurgen Whyte, AAIU chief inspector, said: "The reason we had to focus so much on clearing the cockpit was we didn't want to lose Captain Mark Duffy in the process of lifting the wreckage."

If the wreckage can be moved divers will then be deployed back on to the seabed to inspect the area around it in the hope of finding the winchmen.

"We have to check the wreckage first to make 100% sure the missing crew men are not there," Mr Whyte said.

"We are always hopeful but the reality is we need time to lift that wreckage, partially even, just to look underneath it.

"We just want to look at that area of interest."

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