Irish Coast Guard helicopter crash: Devastated families of missing Rescue 116 crewmen told 'don't give up hope'
Search teams have been unable to find two missing Irish Coast Guard crewmen after managing to raise the wreckage of the Rescue 116 helicopter off the Mayo coast.
Rescue workers had "desperately hoped" that Ciarán Smith (38) and Paul Ormsby (53) would be in or near the main section of the aircraft.
However, after managing to raise the wreckage onto the Commissioner of Irish Lights vessel the Granuaile and inspecting both the aircraft and the seabed yesterday afternoon, investigators said they had not been able to recover the missing men.
The aircraft sections recovered include the rotor head, the main gear box, one engine and "wreckage associated around that" which will be inspected as part of the formal probe into the tragic crash.
Last night, Irish Coast Guard operations manager Gerard O'Flynn said they would continue to look for their missing colleagues in the hope of bringing them home, while asking the crewmen's families "not to give up hope".
In a poignant moment, rescue workers aboard the Granuaile held a prayer service for the Rescue 116 crew as they brought the remains of the Sikorsky S-92 back to Blacksod Bay, from where the search is being co-ordinated.
A Naval Service dive team earlier managed to attach equipment to the wreckage to help the lifting process on what was the 20th day of the large-scale search operation.
Despite the massive disappointment in not being able to find the two crewmen after extensive examinations near the crash site, senior rescue workers and investigators last night stressed that the search would continue for winch operator Mr Smith and winch man Mr Ormsby.
"The hope remains, we haven't given up hope. We will continue to search for another period given that we have resources on scene and available," Mr O'Flynn said.
Supt Tony Healy also paid tribute to the hundreds of rescue personnel who had been involved in the painstaking operating over the last three weeks.
"We achieved our target today of lifting the wreckage and inspecting underneath it. Unfortunately, we didn't find any of the crewmen today, but the conditions were just really on the edge and it's a tribute to all the people out there," Supt Healy said yesterday.
"Weather conditions are expected to disimprove over the next period of time and the air and land searches will continue and will progress.
"It is a very disappointing day; we go out expecting to find two remaining crewmen. Where there's hope of recovering our two missing crewmen we will continue," the senior garda added.
Investigators have recovered all the available data from the aircraft's blackbox, which will help determine what caused Rescue 116 to crash into Black Rock island in the early hours of March 14.
Chief Inspector of the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) Jurgen Whyte said the investigative aspect was a "long way" from concluding and that more evidence would be gathered to determine what caused the tragic crash.
"We have recovered all of the data from the flight data recorder . . . it takes a significant amount of time to analyse.
"As we said, our opinion is that there were no mechanical anomalies and we must now focus on the operational side. It's a long, arduous investigation which will take several months," Mr Whyte said.
"There's a lot more evidence to gather and there's a lot of interviews to do . . . a lot of procedures and we must talk to the different players involved.
"That takes time; takes time to gather facts, time to analyse and time to come to a conclusion," the senior investigator added.
The aircraft's pilot, Capt Dara Fitzpatrick (45), was recovered in the immediate aftermath of the tragic crash but was later pronounced dead. The second crewman, Capt Mark Duffy (51), was recovered from the helicopter's cockpit on Sunday, March 26.