A pilot had flagged the absence of an island off the Co Mayo coast from the Irish Coast Guard’s onboard warning system four years before Rescue 116 crashed into it earlier this year.
An investigation by RTÉ’s Prime Time, aired last night, claimed that the error in the helicopter’s warning system was not corrected despite it being flagged up as a potentially lethal danger in 2013.
Four people, including Blackrock man Captain Mark Duffy, died when Rescue 116 crashed into Black Rock on March 14th last. Captain Dara Fitzpatrick’s body was discovered soon after the accident that shook the nation before she died from her injuries soon after. Captain Duffy’s remains were also discovered following an extensive search some time later but the bodies of winch operator Ciaran Smith and winchman Paul Ormsby have yet to be found.
A preliminary report into fatal crash of Coast Guard Rescue helicopter 116 released in April found the vital omission of Black Rock island in the aircraft’s onboard warning system.
In the report by Katie Hannon, the Air Accident Investigation Unit said that its initial inquiries have found that an Enhanced Ground Positioning Warning System (EGPW) did not have the ‘lighthouse obstacle’ included in its database and that ‘the terrain of the island’ was not listed either. This was despite the fact that the island was on the route approved for approaching the refuelling base at Blacksod Bay from the south.
The Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue service is run by a private operator, CHC Ireland, a subsidiary of global helicopter services provider based in Canada. It won a 10 year €500m contract to provide the service in 2012.
Six months after the tragedy, Prime Time has now revealed there was a chain of emails between Sligo based Coast Guard pilots and a senior CHC manager referring to Black Rock Island and/or other omissions in the EGPWS in 2013.
According to a source quoted in last night’s report, Coast Guard personnel were told at a meeting in April that management was trying to establish if this information had been passed on to the company that supplied the database for their system.
That company, Honeywell, told RTÉ Prime Time that they could not comment on an ongoing investigation.
“Until that investigation is complete, any inferences or conclusions drawn at this time would simply be speculation,” it said.
The Irish Aviation Authority’s State Safety Plan – which provides terrain and obstacle data for use by database suppliers – said that “Black Rock Island was not shown as it does not constitute an obstacle under ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) Standards”. The lighthouse was shown but there was no indication that it was located on an island with a highest point of 282 feet.
The Authority said it has no record that it was advised that Black Rock Island was not in the Coast Guard’s EGPWS system. It also confirmed to Prime Time that it only learned that Skellig Michael was inaccurately depicted on their official maps nine days after the Rescue 116 crash.
A revised map was issued last month which increased Skellig Michael from just 174 feet high to its true height of 712ft.
Check out the full piece on RTÉ’s Prime Time on the RTÉ Player here.