Father of crashed helicopter pilot criticises failure to address safety concerns

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Captain Dara Fitzpatrick (CHC/PA) (PA Media)
Captain Dara Fitzpatrick (CHC/PA) (PA Media)

The father of the pilot of crashed Irish Coast Guard helicopter R116 has said it was “absolutely crazy” that concerns over its navigation system were never addressed.

John Fitzpatrick, whose daughter Dara and three other crew died in the 2017 crash off the Co Mayo coast, was speaking after a report on the incident identified “systemic safety issues”.

Rescue 116 crashed off Co Mayo at 12.46am on March 14, 2017 after it struck Blackrock Island, 12 miles off the coast.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, the commander of the flight, was pulled from the sea in the hours after the crash but never regained consciousness.

The body of Captain Mark Duffy, the co-pilot, was taken from the cockpit 12 days later by Navy divers.

The crew of R116 (from the top left, clockwise) Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, winchman Ciaran Smith and winchman Paul Orsmby (Irish Coast Guard/PA) (PA Media)
The crew of R116 (from the top left, clockwise) Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Captain Mark Duffy, winchman Ciaran Smith and winchman Paul Orsmby (Irish Coast Guard/PA) (PA Media)

The bodies of winchmen Paul Ormsby and Ciaran Smith were never recovered despite weeks of intensive seabed, surface and shore searches.

The report by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU), published on Friday, found that the crew, who were flying in darkness and in poor weather conditions, were unaware that the 282ft Blackrock Island was an obstacle on the flight path of their pre-programmed route.

The investigation report found that concerns had been raised over the navigation system – the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS) – four years before the crash.

Emails from 2013 highlighted that the lighthouse at Blackrock was not listed in the obstacle database.

Mr Fitzpatrick expressed his shock that the issue was not addressed.

“I’m quite shocked actually by some of the findings,” he told RTE Radio One.

The wreckage of Rescue 116 leaves Galway harbour on a flat bed truck after the aircraft was recovered from the seabed near Blackrock (PA) (PA Archive)
The wreckage of Rescue 116 leaves Galway harbour on a flat bed truck after the aircraft was recovered from the seabed near Blackrock (PA) (PA Archive)

“And particularly what really gets me is that in 2013 that was flagged and nothing was done.”

He added: “There’s no evidence that was addressed, which I think is absolutely crazy. I mean, you know, these crews that go out and their lives can be endangered and whatever can be done should be done to alleviate that.

“But in this case, it wasn’t.”

Mr Fitzpatrick said he was not planning legal action following the report’s publication.

He said the report would help his family move on and he said the inquests, which can now proceed, would bring “finality”.

Asked if he was angry, Mr Fitzpatrick said: “Anger really doesn’t get you anywhere, I’m sad.”

He added: “She was a good pilot. She did her job well.”

The report found that the crew “probably believed” that the route taken, by design, “provided adequate terrain separation from obstacles”.

The AAIU made 42 recommendations in light of its findings. The Department of Transport said it fully accepted the report.

The report called on CHC Ireland, the company which provided the helicopters to the Irish Coast Guard, to review its guidance, operating and training procedures in respect of its EGPWS navigating system, and to ensure crews “are aware of the limitations”.

CHC Ireland has said it is committed to implementing the appropriate safety recommendations in the report.

The investigation also raised questions over whether the rescue mission was necessary under official protocols.

The National Search and Rescue (SAR) Framework says that such missions are for people “who are, or are believed to be, in imminent danger of loss of life”.

Reports showed that the fisherman at the centre of the rescue was in danger of losing a thumb, but did not appear to be at risk of bleeding out.

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