R116 driver’s father congratulates jury on ‘incredible work’

The Rescue 116 pilot’s father, Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, has had a lot to say about the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of his daughter and three co-workers.

John Fitzpatrick was speaking to Prime Time after accidental death verdicts were returned by a jury during inquests into the Rescue 116 helicopter crash five years ago.

All four crew on board the plane died when it crashed on Blackrock Island off the coast of Mayo on March 14, 2017.

Mr Fitzpatrick said: “I learned early on how it all started with the skipper, from the fishing vessel ringing at Malin Head, then the helicopters loaded. And then the top cowl, which I had never heard of speak before. And then the doctor at the hospital, all that stuff was much clearer in the investigation.”

He said he was shocked and saddened after an earlier report by the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU).

“I just couldn’t understand that there weren’t systems and rules in place, which governed a lot of what happened. And that became a lot clearer, I think, over the course of investigation,” he said.

Mr Fitzpatrick said the families had received “incredible” support from people in the areas around the crash and paid tribute to fellow Coastguard helicopter crews.

“Even still, they were calling you and that, and it was a terrible thing for them. I mean, they were upset about it, their colleagues, four of them just left like that,” he said. said.

He also said the inquest jury had been “amazing”.

“There was a request to adjourn last night or not to continue and finish. And they said ‘no, we want to look at this overnight’.

“And they came back, they studied everything. They obviously read [the AAIU] report. They came back and asked a question that [the author] then had to answer. They seemed to know all about search and rescue and the importance of how these rescue services in general are run. They did an amazing job there.”

The bodies of Captain Mark Duffy and Captain Dara Fitzpatrick have been found following the tragedy. But the remains of their colleagues, Winchman Ciarán Smith and Winch Operator Paul Ormsby, remain lost at sea.

At the end of evidence in Belmullet Coroner’s Court last night, the jury retired to consider their verdicts.

Shortly thereafter, the proceedings were adjourned for the night and deliberations resumed at 11 a.m.

After considering the evidence for more than an hour and a half today, the jury returned verdicts of accidental death for each of the four deaths.

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Jury recommendations

The jury also made a number of recommendations following its deliberations.

First, the jurors approved the 42 recommendations contained in last November’s report from the Air Accident Investigation Unit. They said there was a need for “definitive medical criteria” to inform decisions about the allocation of air search and rescue (SAR) operations. The jury said there should be “no ambiguity” going forward regarding the decision-making process.

Another recommendation recommends that a “reliable” top cover be in place at all times. This is the term used to describe the back-up or support role that a second aircraft fulfills during long-range SAR missions. The jury said that ideally this coverage would not be provided by other SAR aircraft.

Jurors also drew attention to errors in mapping and navigation systems, which contributed to the fatal crash. They said there needs to be “consistent oversight” to rectify this.

The recommendations were followed by a statement in which the jury acknowledged the efforts of the myriad agencies involved in the search operation in the aftermath of the tragedy.

North Mayo Coroner Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald said a ‘multiplicity of factors’ caused the crash. She expressed her sympathy to the bereaved families following today’s proceedings.

Afterwards, Captain Dara Fitzpatrick’s father said the investigation process had been difficult for the families of the crew members. But John Fitzpatrick said it helped him deal better with the loss of his daughter and he thanked those involved for the work they have done over the past few days.

The inquest heard a detailed discussion of the events leading up to the crash

In an earlier sitting, Coroner Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald accepted evidence from those involved in the massive search following the crash, which allowed her to pronounce the two missing men dead.

The initial session also heard that Cpt Fitzpatrick had died from drowning, with Cpt Duffy sustaining fatal injuries as a result of the accident.

The inquest heard a detailed discussion of the events leading up to the crash in the early hours of March 14, 2017.

At the heart of the proceedings was evidence relating to the decision to task the Sligo-based Rescue 118 helicopter to evacuate an injured fisherman from a vessel in the Atlantic. John James Strachan cut his thumb while shooting nets on the night of March 13, 2017.

Her captain, William Buchan, called Malin Head Marine Rescue Sub-Centre for help.

Radio operator Ian Scott, who took the call, told Mr Buchan he would dispatch the helicopter to transport the victim to hospital.

Mr Scott told the inquest that he made his decision based on the information provided to him and the experience he had gained over more than four decades in the field of research and of the rescue.

He said he tried to get the Air Corps to provide top cover (a support role) for the Sligo helicopter. When unable to do so, the Dublin-based Rescue 116 crew were tasked with filling this role.

But the sequence of these tasks was not respected. Instead of being consulted on the propriety of airlifting the injured fisherman, Dr Mai Nguyen told the inquest that the decision had been presented to her as a fait accompli.

A tape recording of a three-way call between the ship’s captain, Malin Head MRSC and Dr Nguyen confirmed this. The doctor is heard asking, “Is he going to be ‘evacuated'”, to which Mr Scott replied, “Yes, he is going to be ‘evacuated'”; the term used to describe a medical evacuation of a patient.

In her testimony, Dr Nguyen said she did not believe the injury warranted such an intervention and that she would not have sent the Coast Guard to the ship, some 140 nautical miles west of Eagle. Island.

But she told the inquest: ‘I had no power to stop the helicopter from making that trip.

Rescue 116 was en route to Blacksod to refuel for its top cover mission, when the helicopter crashed on Blackrock Island.

Previous inquiries have identified issues with the onboard navigational aids the crew were using, some of which did not mention Blackrock. The inquest also learned how visibility had deteriorated significantly in the lead up to the crash.

Lighthouse attendant Vincent Sweeney, who was on duty at Blacksod, said conditions worsened significantly in the minutes before he expected the R116 to land there.

At the same time, the crew approached Blackrock Island, unaware of the obstacle in front of them, until seconds before the crash.

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