Aviation Specialist Expresses Serious Concerns Over Irish Coastguard Helicopter Crash

Thursday, 16th March 2017

Aviation Lawyer and former RAF pilot says prompt answers are needed on why a modern twin engine helicopter suffered such a catastrophic crash.

Expert aviation lawyer at Ashfords LLP, who has significant experience in air accidents involving single and twin engine helicopters, says that the air accident investigators need to promptly identify the factors that caused this modern helicopter to depart from controlled flight to ensure the ongoing safety of this type of helicopter operation.

On Tuesday 14 March 2017, a Sikorsky S-92 Irish Coastguard helicopter known as Rescue 116 (R116), crashed at sea while supporting another helicopter that was rescuing an injured man from a fishing vessel 150 miles off the coast of Co Mayo on Monday evening.

R116 accompanied the other helicopter to provide safety and communication support, known as top cover. At approximately 1am R116 turned back towards land to refuel, and 12 miles from the Mayo Coast the helicopter and crew lost contact with the coastguard. It is reported that the weather conditions were good when the helicopter lost contact on its final approach to Blacksod refuelling depot.

Sadly the very experienced pilot, Captain Dara Fitzpatrick died in hospital on Tuesday after being recovered from sea in a critical condition. The three other crew members on board R116 who have not yet been found, have been named as Chief Pilot Mark Duffy, and Winchmen Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith. The coastguards and the RNLI are still searching for the three crew members and have been joined by the Irish Naval Service and the Garda (police) diving unit for an extensive search operation.

The Irish Coast Guard helicopters are operated by the CHC helicopter services company.

Jim Morris, Head of Aviation at Ashfords LLP and former RAF Pilot, specialises in representing the victims of air accidents and has acted in numerous international helicopter air accidents, including the Helicsa Sikorski S61 crash into the sea near the Spanish coast in 2006, the Irish Helicopters Eurocopter crash in Ireland in 2007, the CHC Eurocopter ditching into the North Sea in 2012, the CHC Eurocopter crash into the North Sea in 2013 and the Bond Police Eurocopter crash into Glasgow in 2013.

Jim Morris commented: "Over recent years there has been a series of twin engine commercial helicopter crashes in the UK with causes including gearbox problems, human factors and fuel starvation. This further loss of a modern twin engine Coastguard helicopter in Ireland that was being flown by a very experienced crew is extremely concerning. It is very early days but the reports indicate that it was on a routine final approach to refuel in good conditions when contact was lost - a catastrophic loss in this phase of flight is shocking.

"There are also reports indicating that there must have been a catastrophic failure as it only takes two seconds to press the mayday button, yet the crew did not do this."

"Clearly the recovery of the wreckage from the sea is crucial so that the investigators can analyse the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR). The data from these "black box" devices should provide crucial real time evidence on the chain of events that led to the departure from controlled flight. The cause(s) of this tragedy need to be identified and published as soon as possible so that all necessary measures are implemented to prevent a similar accident in the future."

"This is a deeply devastating accident and our thoughts are with the families of all the crew on board R116 during this incredibly difficult time."

For any press enquiries, please contact Kathryn Deeley (PR and Communications Executive) - k.deeley@ashfords.co.uk.

Key Contact

Jim Morris

Partner, Barrister and Head of Aviation

[javascript protected email address]
+44 (0)20 7544 2403


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