Latest: Family of Dara Fitzpatrick experiencing a 'living nightmare'

Latest: The family of Dara Fitzpatrick have spoken about their grief following the death of the Coast Guard pilot yesterday.

    What we know so far:

  • Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, who was recovered critically ill yesterday morning, later died in hospital. She is survived by her three-year-old son;
  • The three missing crew members have been named locally as Mark Duffy, Ciarán Smith and Paul Ormsby;
  • A search operation is on-going for the missing Coast Guard helicopter and crew members; Contact was lost at about 12.45am yesterday morning;
  • A survey vessel is on the scene to carry out a sonar search;
  • The rescue helicopter's last known location was about six miles west of Blacksod, Co Mayo;
  • Debris was found during yesterday's search. A ping from the black box has been located;
  • Navy divers and Garda divers assessing suitable locations to dive.
  • The Coast Guard are confident the main bulk of the missing helicopter will be located.

Update 18.15: The family of Dara Fitzpatrick have spoken about their grief following the death of the Coast Guard pilot yesterday.

Dara's sister, Niamh, has described the 'living nightmare' the family is experiencing.

"It's a living nightmare," she said on RTÉ Six One. "We feel like we're standing outside of ourselves looking in."

Dara's parents, Mary and John, have thanked the community and the emergency services for their help during this difficult time.

"We cannot thank everybody enough for what they've done for us."

He mother, Mary, said the family will raise Dara's three-year-old adopted son, Fionn, as his mother would have wished.

"He was the light of her life, and he is the light of our lives," she said.

Describing Dara as "beautiful, inside and out", her family added that they hope the families of Mark Duffy, Ciarán Smith, and Paul Ormsby will be reunited with the missing crew members soon.

"We have her," her sister, Niamh, said. We can kiss her, hold her. They can't."

Update 5.25pm: The black box of Rescue 116 has been detected and investigators are hopeful this will lead to the main wreckage, writes Joyce Fegan.

It has been detected off a small piece of land called Black Rock, off the coast of Mayo, which carries a lighthouse.

"In terms of the search we are just getting news now that the recorder device, commonly known as the black box, that a signal has been detected," Gerard O'Flynn, head of search operations with the Irish Coast Guard said.

The detection was made at 4pm today.

"So we regard this as a very significant step forward in terms of professing the search stage of the operation.

"We've detected a signal so the next stage will be to actually locate it. We've now begun the process of establishing the exact position so it's a process of homing and triangulation," Mr O'Flynn said.

Jurgen Whyte of the Air Accident Investigation Unit (AAIU), said that the cross-agent team hopes the wreckage will be with the black box.

"We've to transfer a lot of the sensing equipment on to a smaller vessel, depending on conditions and the swell, we will try to move that vessel in and right on target, in the hope the wreckage will be beneath that," Mr Whyte said.

"It's in a difficult area, it's just off the large rock called Black Rock. It's difficult waters, it's in 40 metres of depth," he added.

The operation is continuing and families of the missing three crew members are staying in the area.

Update - 5.04pm: A ping from the blackbox flight recorder from Rescue 116 has been located.

A massive air, sea and shoreline search has been ongoing off the Mayo coast, since the helicopter disappeared from radar screens in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick was confirmed dead yesterday, but Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and Ciaran Smith are still missing.

Members of the Air Corps, coastguard, navy and Gardai are all involved in the search operation.

Jurgen Whyte is the Chief Aeronautical Officer with the Air Accident Investigation Unit.

He says locating a ping from Black Box is significant.

"It's hugely significant, other investigation authorities have spent months literally trying to do the same thing.

"We have been very lucky in less than 36 hours we have picked up what is a signal, what that means is that the recorder has activated its beacon and we are using sophisticated equipment to hone in on the signal itself."

Update - 4pm: The Minister for Transport says everything possible will be done to find the three missing crew members from Rescue 116.

Transport Minister Shane Ross met their families in Blacksod.

He has told them every possible asset will be made available to the operation.

"Every single resource available in this State will be available to the families, and to the people here to find those who are missing and to establish what happened, and to do anything to alleviate their distress.

"Of course nobody would have any reason to say enough hasn't been done, of course everything has been done."

Gerard O'Flynn from the Coastguard says two Irish Naval vessels are also involved in the multi-agency search operation.

"We have support from the Air Corps, we are using our own Coast Guard helicopters.

"On the surface side the LÉ Róisín and the LÉ Eithne have been on scene overnight.

"They were searching overnight and were joined this morning by the Marine Institute vessel the Celtic Voyager, and they are engaging in a form of underwater mapping."

Update - 1.35pm: John Carbury, who was airlifted to hospital by Captain Dara Fitzpatrick following a heart attack, has spoken of her reassuring and calm manner.

Mr Carbury said the first thing he noticed when he was brought to the helicopter was "the reassuring lovely smile and glance over her shoulder that she gave me".

He said it contrasted with the mayhem that had preceded his arrival at the helicopter, and he owed his life to all the crew that took care of him that day, especially Ms Fitzpatrick.

Mr Carbury, who is absolutely shocked to hear of Captain Fitzpatrick's death, described how he came across her when she helped him after he had a cardiac arrest while on holidays in West Cork in 2013.

He told Sean O' Rourke on RTÉ Radio 1: "After I was stabilised I was transferred to the O'Donovan Rossa GAA pitch in Skibereen where the helicopter was waiting for me and the first thing that I noticed was the reassuring, lovely smile and glance over the shoulder she gave.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick

"This reassured me and contrasted with the mayhem and hyperactivity that had ocurred earlier in my rescucitation.

"It had a relaxing affect on me."

Mr Carbury told how lucky he was to survive as the defibrillator had to be used 12 times during the incident.

He said: "I suffer from a condition colloquially known as the 'widowmaker'. Very few people survive it.

"I couldn't believe the professionalism and expertise that was shown by Dara Fitzpatrick and her crew. I remember in a blink of an eye we were airborne and on our way to Cork University Hospital.

"If it wasn't for Dara Fitzpatrick and her crew and the paramedics, I would not be alive today. I owe my life to the crew and Dara Fitzpatrick."

Mr Carbury finished by expressing his condolences to Ms Fitzpatrick's family and the members of the Coast Guard.

Update - 12.45pm: The search operation for remaining crew of a missing Coast Guard helicopter off the west of Ireland is using sonar equipment to try to locate them while air and shore searches are ongoing.

A hydrophone is also being employed to try pick up the radio frequency of the black box recorder.

The black box transmits a signal underwater for 30 days.

A Coast Guard helicopter arrives in Blacksod to refuel today.

Declan Geoghegan, of the Coast Guard, said he was confident the main bulk of the missing helicopter will be located.

"The main frame, the engine and gearbox is still in the water. We should be able to find it, it is in just 40 metres of water," he said.

"With the luck of God, they might be trapped in it."

Family members arrive at the scene in Blacksod, Co Mayo, as the search continues.

The Commissioner of Irish Lights ship, the Granuaile, is en route to the scene to join the flotilla of vessels involved in the operation, which has also been joined by a second Naval Service patrol ship, the LE Eithne.

Update - 11.45am: Improving weather conditions off the North Mayo coast are helping emergency services' search of the area where three helicopter crew are still missing.

Update - 10.35am: Niamh Fitzpatrick has paid tribute to her sister Captain Dara Fitzpatrick on RTE Radio One this morning.

She said: "The family are heartbroken, but we have no regrets where Dara is concerned. She lived her life to the full, and she loved what she did.

"She wanted to be a mother, she adopted Fionn. She absolutely adored him and they say it takes a village to raise a child, and he has a village around him now, round him on her behalf."

She told Morning Ireland that "it never occurred to Dara that she could not do this because she was female".

She said: "In terms of doing her job, there was never any question of her gender with being able to do it or not, she just loved it and she worked hard at it. She was excellent at it."

She continued by praising Dara's fellow search and rescue volunteers for the support they gave to Dara's family since the tragedy.

She said: "We were woken at 6am in the morning with two of Dara's colleagues and friends who arrived to the door to tell us that the helicopter had crashed and they didn't know what was going on after that.

"And from then on, they've never left us."

Update - 10.10am: Gerard O'Flynn from the Coastguard says Navy vessels, the LE Róisín and LE Niamh, continued their search through the night.

He said: "Earlier this morning the search was joined by Marine Institute vessel, Celtic Voyager, and they are conducting an underwater search. Navy divers and Garda divers are continuing to assess the situation and determine what might be suitable locations to dive.

"Aerial search is possibly restricted this morning because of the visibility, but that situation down here is constantly changing."

Update - 9.25am: Gerard O'Flynn, search and rescue operations manager with the Irish Coastguard, said that despite the weather deteriorating, the operation continues.

He said: "Weather conditions have disimproved overnight, as forecasted unfortunately, but the search is underway.

"We will have an aerial search by an Air Corps Casa and Coast Guard helicopters will be here throughout the day.

"We would just ask the members of the public to be mindful that this is a difficult search in terms of the weather, in terms of the shoreline - so just leave it to the professionals and we'll keep going with our best efforts."

Gerard O'Flynn.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick's sister, Niamh Fitzpatrick, has paid tribute to her on social media.

She wrote: "My brave sister Capt Dara Fitzpatrick lost her life in Rescue 116 crash.

"We are devastated. Please pray for recovery of three remaining crew."

Update - 7.50am: An intense search for the three missing crew of a missing Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 off the west of Ireland has resumed after being wound down overnight.

Navy and garda divers, Ballyglass and Achill lifeboats, the LE Roisin, a fixed wing aircraft and two helicopters are also involved.

Gerard O'Flynn of the Irish Coast Guard says the team is concentrating on a relatively small search area.

He said: "Two or three square miles, but I wouldn't draw too much of a conclusion from that. It is still a relatively small area, but if one piece of debris is found two or three miles away that doesn't mean it is a huge search area.

A member of the local community on the pier in Blacksod, Co Mayo, as the search continues.

"I think it has been scatterred at this stage, but obviously there have been more intensive finds in some areas, but that will change with wind and tide."

A yellow warning for small craft is in place at nearby Erris Head and significant sea swells are making work more difficult.

Weather conditions are also expected to deteriorate later.

A member of the Garda water unit in Blacksod, Co Mayo, as the search continues.

Locating the rescue helicopter’s black box will be a priority today, while the air accident investigation unit tries to understand what caused it to crash.

Officials from the Air Accident Investigation Unit are also at the scene carrying out a full investigation.

Jurgen Whyte, chief aeronautical officer with the unit, signalled the black box could be crucial to learning what went wrong.

Earlier: Its pilot, Capt Dara Fitzpatrick, has so far been recovered after the Coast Guard helicopter went down off the Mayo coast in the early hours of yesterday morning. She has died in hospital.

The LE Eithne kept searching through the night, while a survey vessel has just arrived on the scene to carry out a sonar search.

Navy and Garda divers, Ballyglass and Achill lifeboats, the LE Roisin, a fixed-wing aircraft and two helicopters will also be involved at various points today.

Intensive efforts to recover the remaining missing crew from the Coast Guard helicopter that vanished off the Mayo coast will continue today as air crash investigators try to find out what caused the disaster.

Three crew members, Mark Duffy, Ciarán Smith and Paul Ormsby are missing, feared dead, write Caroline O’Doherty, Fiachra Ó Cionnaith and Dan Buckley of the Irish Examiner.

Local GP Keith Swanick, who works closely with the Coast Guard, said: "They put their lives at risk every day of the week, whether it be the on-ground crew here or the pilots and we really need to respect what they do.

"All I can say is that our heartfelt sympathies go out to them."

Rescue 116, a helicopter based at Dublin Airport, was flying to assist Sligo-based colleagues in evacuating a casualty from a fishing vessel it disappeared from radar.

No warning was issued, no mayday call put out and no message received from any of the aircraft’s emergency position-indicating radio beacons, or the personal locator beacons carried by crew, which should have activated on impact with water.

Only the last known co-ordinates of the crew and the early sighting of debris enabled air and sea search and recovery teams to estimate the point of impact, around 13km from shore off Blacksod around 12.45am yesterday.

Gerard O’Flynn, Coast Guard search and rescue operations manager, said “the helicopter just simply disappeared”.

“It was just a sudden break in communications and there was no prior warning of any particular problem,” he added.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, was the first of the crew to be recovered, just before 8am yesterday morning, but she was pronounced dead a short time later.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick

Capt Fitzpatrick, the mother of a three-year-old boy, was one of Ireland’s most senior search and rescue pilots, with more than 20 years in the job, and one of the few women worldwide to reach her rank and level of experience.

Her sister, Niamh Fitzpatrick, confirmed the family’s loss. “My brave sister, Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, lost her life in the Rescue 116 crash. We are devastated,” she said, asking for prayers for the remaining missing three crew members.

President Michael D Higgins led the official condolences. “Today marks a dark day in the history of the Coast Guard,” he said.

“On behalf of the people of Ireland, may I pay tribute to Captain Dara Fitzpatrick who died today.

“We are all grateful for the courage, resolution and exemplary commitment to the aims of the Coast Guard that Captain Fitzpatrick and her colleagues have consistently displayed.”

Taoiseach Enda Kenny also offered his “deepest sympathy” to the families of Captain Fitzpatrick and her colleagues and said the investigation must uncover what went wrong.

Local fishermen and members of the local community return to Blacksod, Co Mayo, as the search continues.

While the search goes on, CHC Ireland, a subsidary of a multinational search and rescue aircraft leasing firm, which has the contract to provide helicopters and crews to the Coast Guard, is carrying out its own inquiries.

Sikorsky, manufacturers of the S92 helicopter the crew were flying, are also conducting inquiries.

In January the company recommended the grounding of all S92s worldwide after an incident on an oil platform revealed problems with the tail rotor.

The Coast Guard’s S92s were inspected for the problem and and cleared for continued use. Rescue 116 had also undergone all routine safety and maintenance checks prior to its final rescue mission.

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