Crashed SAR Helicopter May Have Had Faulty Charts

Rescue 116's crewmembers: Dara Fitzpatrick, Mark Duffy, Ciaran Smith and Paul Ormsby (clockwise)

By The Maritime Executive 2017-10-28 16:57:41

A new report alleges that serious safety concerns existed in the Irish Coast Guard's SAR helicopter service prior to the crash of Rescue 116 last March, which killed all four crewmembers aboard. 

In a series of investigations, Ireland's RTE Prime Time found that the Coast Guard-contracted helicopters were making use of an aeronautical chart system that showed a blurred digital image at some settings. When zoomed in close to the location of the crash, Blackrock Island, the system did not show the ground height, RTE found. 

In addition, on the night of the crash, the pilots had on board an alternative digital chart system installed on iPad Minis, which was still in an evaluation phase. That second system gave an incorrect height for Blackrock Island, indicating that it was about 240 feet lower than the actual level. 

RTE asserted that SAR helicopter crews had been complaining about problems with charts for months before Rescue 116 went down, and contended that they are still flying with the same system. 

Separately, Blackrock Island was allegedly not included in the database for the helicopter's Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System (EGPWS), which could have alerted the crew to impending danger. RTE revealed email evidence that appears to show that the EGPWS database's shortcomings had been known to the helicopter operator for four years.

RTE also found a series of alleged inaccuracies contained in official Irish Aviation Authority aeronautical charts, including chart editions that allegedly omitted 2,000-foot peaks. The authority denied any deficiencies. 

Faulty locator beacons

None of the locator beacons worn by Rescue 116's crew activated when the helicopter crashed, and the remains of winch operator Paul Ormsby and winchman Ciaran Smith are still lost at sea. RTE's investigation found that helicopter crewmembers had been warning of a problem with the beacons for five years before the crash. The beacons were installed on life vests in a manner that was not approved by their manufacturer, and crewmembers had warned that "the beacon could produce absolutely zero receivable transmissions" due to the error.