The four crew of an Irish Coast Guard search and rescue helicopter died when the aircraft crashed into the sea off Blacksod, Co Mayo, while on its way to refuel having been on an emergency mission.
The incident began late on Mar 13, when a fishing vessel some 95 miles from the Irish coast requested assistance after a crew member had suffered a serious hand injury. The Irish Coast Guard helicopter at Sligo, Rescue-118, flew to the vessel which was so far out at sea that communication was extremely difficult so, as was normal procedure for long-range missions, another helicopter, Rescue-116 from Dublin, was despatched to provide top cover support, giving a communications link between R-118 and the Malin Head Rescue Co-ordination Centre.
The R-118 picked up the injured fisherman and flew him to hospital. Around 0100 on Mar 14, the R-116 was approaching Blacksod to refuel and was making its approach in poor visibility when it suddenly disappeared from the radar.
A search was immediately launched by the Coast Guard and involved the all-weather RNLI lifeboats from Ballyglass and Achill Island, local fishing vessels, the Irish Naval Service patrol vessel Le Roisin and an Irish Air Corps helicopter. The R-116 pilot, Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, was rescued by one of the lifeboats, but she was in a critical condition and was pronounced dead at the hospital. Chief pilot Mark Duffy and the winchmen Paul Ormsby and Ciaran Smith were missing.
The search by aircraft and vessels went on during that day and debris was recovered from a two-to-three square mile area about six or seven miles out from Blacksod Bay. Among the debris that was recovered was a fuel tank and a large piece with the words ‘Coast Guard’. Another Irish Navy patrol ship, the Le Eithne joined the search during that day and she and the Le Roisin continued with the search that night. Also taking part in the search during the day were the Coast Guard rescue helicopters from Sligo and Shannon, while members of the Achill and Blacksod Coast Guard units searched the coastline.
The preliminary report of the Irish Air Accident Investigation Unit was issued on 13 April, pdf link here.