Belfast Telegraph

Irish Coast Guard helicopter crash: Signal from black box of Rescue 116 detected

Rescue workers searching for three missing Irish Coast Guard members have detected a signal from the black box belonging to the R116 helicopter.

Hopes have faded for the survival of anyone on the Sikorsky S92 which lost radio contact without any warning at around 12.45am on Tuesday morning.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, 45, was pulled from the Atlantic off the Co Mayo coast - around six miles (10km) west of Blacksod - deemed critically-ill, but later confirmed dead.

She was the mother of a three-year-old son.

The other three crew, who have yet to be found, are chief pilot Mark Duffy from Dundalk, Co Louth, as well as Ciaran Smith and Paul Ormsby, both winchmen from north Co Dublin.

Gerry O'Flynn, VS&T Operations Manager of the Irish Coast Guard said that it was a "significant" detection for the rescue operation and that it was discovered shortly after 4pm.

"In terms of the search we're just getting news now that the recording device, commonly known as the black box (has been) detected.... a signal has been detected and we regard this as a very significant step forward in terms of progressing the search stage of this operation.

"So we've detected signals. The next stage will be to locate it. We've now begun the process of locating the exact position," Mr Flynn said.

Jurgen Whyte, a chief inspector of the Air Accident Investigation Unit, said that the signal had been detected in the vicinity of the Blackrock Lighthouse off the west coast.

"We have the Celtic Voyager out there, unfortunately the voyager couldn't get in as close but we have smaller vessels with Marine Institute people on board and they started picking up signals.

"This is a needle in a hay stack, you're trying to triangulate from different areas to get the loudest signal," he said.

UK investigation officers are also expected to arrive at the lighthouse in Blacksod- from where the operation is being coordinated- at 6pm this evening to assist in the search mission.

The Dublin-based helicopter crew was providing cover for another Coast Guard helicopter involved in an early-morning evacuation of a crewman needing urgent medical attention on a UK-registered trawler, approximately 150 miles (240km) west of Eagle Island in Co Mayo.

It had flown directly to the scene from the Irish capital, travelled around 10 miles (16km) out to sea, then turned back towards land to refuel.

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

Visibility was described as not good at the time.

When the helicopter failed to arrive, a Mayday signal went out and Coast Guard helicopters from Sligo and Shannon along with the Air Corps maritime patrol aircraft Casa were tasked to the scene.

They were joined by lifeboats from Ballyglass and Achill, the Naval Service's LE Roisin ship and five local fishing vessels.

The black box transmits a signal underwater for 30 days.

Declan Geoghegan, of the Irish Coast Guard, said he was confident the main bulk of the missing helicopter will be located.

"The main frame, the engine and gearbox is still in the water. We should be able to find it, it is in just 40 metres of water," he said.

"With the luck of God, they might be trapped in it."

Ms Fitzpatrick's sister, Niamh Fitzpatrick, said her family is heartbroken but added "we have no regrets where Dara is concerned".

"She lived her life to the full and did what she wanted to... she has a beautiful son," she told RTE radio.

"They say it takes a village to raise a child and he has a village around him now who will raise him on her behalf."

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