An Irish Coastguard SAR helicopter has gone missing off the west coast of Ireland. One crewmember was recovered, but died from her injuries in hospital, and three others are still missing. A search operation is ongoing.
Rescue 116 went missing shortly before 1am this morning. The Dublin-based crew had been providing top cover for another Coastguard helicopter that was performing a medical evacuation of a crewman requiring urgent medical attention from a UK-registered fishing vessel some 150 miles off the coast of Eagle Island in County Mayo. The R116 helicopter was returning to base when it fell out of contact some six miles offshore from Blacksod.
A huge search operation was immediately mounted by other Coastguard helicopters, an Irish Air Corps airplane, RNLI lifeboats from Ballyglass and Achill, several local fishing vessels and the naval ship LE Roisin.
A large amount of debris was found, along with the badly injured pilot, Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, but hopes for the remaining missing rescue crew are fading. Sadly, Captain Fitzpatrick was pronounced dead after being rushed to hospital.
Fitzpatrick was one of very few female civilian pilots worldwide, and had featured in the RTE series Rescue 117, which followed operations by the crew at Waterford helicopter base. She had over 20 years flying experience and had been the chief pilot in Waterford since 2002.
The whole operation is being carried out in conjunction with the Air Accident Investigation Unit, but Coastguard sources said there was no evidence that the crew of the stricken helicopter had attempted to send a mayday call, which would suggest that whatever happened, the crash was unlikely to have been caused by a mechanical fault. However, the sources stressed that it was too early in the investigation to speculate on the cause.