Investigation suggests tail of R116 Coast Guard helicopter 'may have hit rocks'

A member of the Civil Defence searches the shoreline near Blacksod, Co Mayo (Image: Steve Humphreys/
A member of the Civil Defence searches the shoreline near Blacksod, Co Mayo (Image: Steve Humphreys/

Air accident investigators have confirmed for the first time that there are marks on wreckage recovered from Rescue 116 consistent with the Coast Guard aircraft striking rocks.

The Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU) have stated that although the investigation is in its early stages, there are indications that the downed helicopter may have hit rocks.

"At this early stage in the investigation, it is not possible to be definitive about the exact nature of damage to the recovered wreckage or indeed the circumstances of the accident," the statement from Chief Inspector of Air Accidents, Mr Jurgen Whyte, in consultation with Investigator-in-Charge Mr Paul Farrell, read.

"However, there appears to be marks on some of the recovered wreckage which are consistent with the tail of the aircraft contacting rocky surfaces on the western end of Blackrock."

Investigations are now continuing to ascertain the initial point of impact.

"The AAIU has visited Blackrock Light House, on the approaches to Blacksod bay, which is close to the last recorded position of the helicopter. Some helicopter wreckage has been recovered from the general area of Blackrock Light House," the statement continues.

"This wreckage is primarily from the tail area of the helicopter."

The AAIU has extended its "sincere sympathies" to the families and friends of the crew of Rescue 116.

"The Investigation Unit has been working with the Garda Síochána, Coast Guard, Irish Air Corps, the Irish Marine Institute, and many local people and agencies with the primary objective of locating and recovering the missing crew members," read the statement.

The AAIU also said it was anxious to recover and examine as much wreckage as possible, and in particular to recover the craft's black box.

"A significant amount of wreckage has been recovered from the sea and this has been logged and will be brought to the AAIU wreckage facility in Gormanston, Co Meath, for detailed examination.

"Equipment aboard surface search vessels has detected a signal which is believed to be from the underwater locator beacon attached to the aircraft’s 'Black Box'. This signal points toward an area which will be the focus of further, multi-agency investigation activities at the earliest opportunity, subject to weather."

Louise Kelly