Belfast Telegraph

Kenny observes recovery effort as hunt for tragic Coast Guard air crew goes on

By Luke Byrne

Search teams looking for three crewmen from an Irish Coast Guard helicopter that crashed into the Atlantic are hoping for calmer weather tomorrow or Thursday to examine the seabed.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny visited the mission at Blacksod, Co Mayo, and said the families of the crew need answers as it emerged a submersible vehicle or divers could be sent into the 40m deep ocean later in the week. "What we need now to find out here is what happened", Mr Kenny said.

"There are four families involved in this. They need to know, obviously to bring closure to this, but also in respect of the service itself and the facilities that are provided, to find out the actual facts of how this tragedy occurred."

The Commissioner of Irish Lights vessel ILV Granuaile has been waiting in the bay ready to be deployed as soon as the weather permits.

Searches along the coast continued, but a spokesman for the Coast Guard confirmed no dive attempt could be made yesterday.

"Anything over three metre (swells) pose a problem," he said.

It may be the end of the week before the weather lifts.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick's remains were recovered last week, but the other three members of the vastly experienced crew - Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and Ciaran Smith - remain missing.

Mr Kenny spoke about how the families of the crew of Rescue 116 need to know what happened to the helicopter, to bring closure to the tragedy.

He boarded a boat to get to the Irish Naval vessel LE Eithne, which has been involved in the search since the helicopter went down early last week. Mr Kenny spent a number of hours on the ship and later commended the work being done by rescue crews.

The Taoiseach thanked everyone who has been involved in the retrieval operation and spoke about the difficulties the weather was presenting.

"I've had a full briefing on board the LE Eithne and I have to commend the absolute co-operation that there is between the agencies," he said.

Mr Kenny pointed out the operation was led by the Irish Coast Guard and involved the Naval Service, the Garda, the Civil Defence, lifeboat crews from Ballyglass and Achill, and many volunteers.

Meanwhile, there are concerns that the shortage of highly trained pilots and other specialist officers across the Republic's Defence Forces will continue for several years.

The pilot staffing crisis in its Air Corps was exposed last week in the wake of the Rescue 116 tragedy when it was revealed that an initial request for assistance from a maritime aircraft had been turned down due to a lack of ground and air crews.

The Casa CN235 had been asked to provide top cover for a rescue operation involving the Sligo-based Coast Guard helicopter off the Mayo coast. When it was unavailable the doomed Rescue 116 was dispatched from Dublin instead.

A Sunday Independent investigation found an average of between 50 and 60 enlisted personnel are leaving the Republic's Defence Forces each month.

Retired Brigadier General Ger Aherne said that claims that 28 Air Corps cadets are currently in training, with eight due to graduate in the last quarter of this year, were effectively disingenuous.

"The truth is that none of these eight trainees will be qualified to even act as co-pilots of a helicopter or a fixed wing Casa in an Air Corps operational Wing until the summer of 2019, at the earliest."

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