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Private helicopter with five on board goes missing en route from Milton Keynes to Dublin

By Claire O'Boyle

A massive air, land and sea search was launched yesterday for a private helicopter with five people on board that went missing over the Irish Sea.

The UK Coastguard launched a search after being notified of the disappearance at 4.15pm, focusing on waters between Caernarfon Bay in north Wales and Dublin.

It is understood the privately-owned helicopter left Milton Keynes for Dublin via Caernarfon Bay earlier in the day, but radar contact with the Airbus-Eurocopter Twin Squirrel helicopter was lost yesterday afternoon.

Two search and rescue helicopters, one from south Wales and one from north Wales, were involved in the search using thermal imaging equipment.

As well as the sea search, an extensive land-based search of fields and airfields was carried out in the Caernarfon area.

According to reports last night, the aircraft was last detected in the Caernarfon Bay area, less than 20km from the Welsh coast.

It is understood no mayday or distress call was received from the chopper, whose pilot was said to be very experienced.

UK Coastguard Duty Commander Peter Davies said: "We have established a search plan between Caernarfon Bay and the shore of Dublin, and currently have two Coastguard helicopters searching the route.

"We are in the process of contacting all the vessels in the Irish Sea that were in the vicinity around midday and we are continuing Mayday broadcast action for any vessels currently in the area to contact us if they have further information.

"At the moment we are appealing to these vessels and to the public that if they have seen a Twin Squirrel red helicopter to please contact 999 and ask for the Coastguard."

North Wales Police were also notified of the operation.

The Twin Squirrel is one of the most popular light helicopters operated by private firms and has an excellent safety record.

The missing helicopter is the same type as that used by the Garda Air Support unit.

Yesterday's disappearance comes just over two weeks after Irish Coastguard Rescue 116 helicopter crashed off the Co Mayo coast.

Four people were on board, but the bodies of just two - Captains Dara Fitzpatrick and Mark Duffy - have been recovered. Their colleagues, Paul Ormsby and Ciaran Smith, are still missing.

With efforts also under way to retrieve data from the aircraft's black box, poor weather continues to hamper the search.

A meeting is expected to take place this morning when rescue and search teams will determine what, if any, operations can be carried out due to deteriorating weather conditions.

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