The Head of Operations of the Irish Coast Guard has said “hopes are fading” of finding three crew members still missing off the west coast of Mayo.
One member of the crew of the Rescue 116 Coast Guard helicopter has been located in a critical condition, while the search for the other three members continues.
The major sea search is being carried out around 10km west of Blacksod in Co Mayo after the Search and Rescue helicopter with four crew on board lost contact around 1am.
It was providing cover for another Coast Guard helicopter on a mission at the time.
What appears to be wreckage has been found near the last known location of the missing helicopter.
The LÉ Róisín arrived in the search zone just before 9am to assist.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Eugene Clonan said that while the search for three missing crew members continues, hopes of finding them are fading.
He said today was a dark day for Ireland’s emergency services.
He said the last communication with Rescue 116 was at 12.45am when it said it was approaching Blacksod in Co Mayo to refuel (after providing support to Rescue 118) and there was no indication of any problem.
When Rescue 116 failed to respond after a communications search, a search began.
The first search and rescue unit on scene was Rescue 118 from Sligo, and that crew discovered debris on the surface of the water about 1.5 nautical miles southeast of Blackrock lighthouse, around six nautical miles off the coast from Blacksod.
Mr Clonan said visibility last night “wasn’t too good” but suitable for carrying out the operation.
He said Rescue 116 is a very new one aircraft, a Sikorsky S92, and has had regular maintenance checks.
Search and Rescue helicopters from Sligo and Shannon are involved in this morning’s search, along with an Air Corps plane, lifeboats from Ballyglass and Achill and five local fishing boats.
In a statement earlier this morning, the Coast Guard said the Sligo-based Rescue 118 helicopter completed an evacuation of a crewman requiring urgent medical attention from a UK-registered fishing vessel 150 nautical miles west of Eagle Island in Co Mayo early this morning.
“Owing to the distance involved, safety and communication support, known as top cover, was provided by the second Coast Guard helicopter, the Dublin-based Rescue 116,” the statement said.
Both helicopters had re-fuelled at Blacksod, the statement added.
Transport Minister Statement
In a statement Minister Shane Ross said:
This is an extremely difficult time for all concerned. As we await further information I would like to appeal for space to be given to the relevant professionals involved in the search operation to complete their work.
“Once again, I send my utmost support to all those affected.”
The S92 helicopter is one of four in operation around the Irish coast, with a fifth kept in reserve.
The Air Accident Investigation Unit’s chief aeronautical officer, Jurgen Whyte, said investigators were en route within an hour of the incident.
He said the immediate priority is the search and rescue effort, then the collection of debris and to recover the flight recorders.
Source : RTE.ie