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Air Corps rescuers grounded as mystery illness hits winchmen

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  • Air Corps rescuers grounded as mystery illness hits winchmen

    The Irish Independent
    Tom Brady
    A SUDDEN outbreak of illness among crew members is threatening the future of the Air Corps search and rescue mission in the north-west of the country.

    The Air Corps is responsible for providing the service, based in Sligo, but its operations are currently severely restricted because of sick leave and there are fears that the service will be handed over to another organisation.

    Defence Minister Michael Smith admitted last night that, due to what he called "an unusually high incidence of sickness" among aircrew, the Air Corps was not in a position to provide a full search and rescue service to the north-west over the weekend.

    A shortage of winch operators has meant that the Air Corps cannot take part in rescue missions, though it is still available to handle searches, air ambulance duties, island relief, and disaster relief.

    A substantial pay claim for Air Corps winch crews had been submitted by the representative association, PDFORRA, and led to an offer being made by the Department of Defence.

    But last month the claim was withdrawn from the conciliation and arbitration scheme.

    According to defence sources, this action was taken without explanation or an indication of whether the offer was being accepted or rejected.

    The minister said last night: "By taking this surprising action PDFORRA has regrettably precluded my department from progressing this matter."

    Since then, the operations at Sligo have been hit by the outbreak of illness among crew and the Irish Coast Guard, controlled by the Department of Communications, Marine, and Natural Resources, has been advised of the position.

    Fine Gael defence spokesman, Dinny McGinley, warned yesterday that unless immediate action was taken the entire north-west coast from Malin Head to Mayo would be left unprotected.

    He called on the minister and his department to immediately resume serious negotiations to defuse a rapidly deteriorating situation and said the pay dispute was leading to a crisis.

    However, Mr Smith accused Mr McGinley of being misinformed and said he was surprised that such an inaccurate statement would be issued without first establishing the facts.

  • #2
    There's gotta be a way to blame this on SF.....:D
    "Everyone's for a free Tibet, but no one's for freeing Tibet." -Mark Steyn. What an IMO-centric quote, eh?


    • #3
      Could this be an air corps variant of the dreaded "blue Flu" virus?

      Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing.


      • #4
        Last edited by Joey D; 21 October 2003, 10:10.
        Keep the speed up...!


        • #5
          Thr Irish Times

          Ireland Mon, Oct 06, 03


          Minister 'disappointed' by Air Corps
          Kitty Holland and Lorna Siggins

          The Minister for Defence, Mr Smith, will tomorrow express his "grave disappointment" at the conduct of the Air Corps, when he addresses the PDFORRA annual delegate conference in Waterford.

          An "unusually high incidence of sickness" among winching crews is reported to be affecting the Air Corps' search and rescue service for the north-west, effectively preventing the Corps from providing 24-hour cover from the Sligo base over the weekend.

          The Air Corps has been using a leased Sikorsky medium-lift helicopter at Sligo since the summer, during daylight hours, and had planned to provide 24-hour cover this month.

          Mr Gerry Rooney, general secretary of PDFORRA, admitted the Sligo base was not providing full 24-hour cover and attributed the level of sick-leave being taken to "a hostile and difficult working environment, with harassment and related stress".

          He denied there was any "work-to-rule" or withdrawal of services by crews for any reason other than illness and stress.

          About 15 members of the winch crew were suffering work-related stress, he said, with about half of these regularly attending the Defence Forces welfare services as a result.

          "The harassment has been going on since the summer when we had a dispute concerning safety issues," said Mr Rooney.

          "Substantial progress has been made on safety concerns but the harassment issue is now central. I think the only thing that will resolve the situation is intervention by a third party," said Mr Rooney. A spokesman would not go into details about what the Minister intended to say at tomorrow's annual delegate conference, but said: "You can take it that he will be expressing grave disappointment at the way things are being handled in Sligo-Donegal."

          The Minister said he had been advised by the military authorities that in spite of the "incidence of sickness" over the weekend, full operational capability could be provided for search, air ambulance, island and disaster relief. Any activities which did not require use of live winching, could also be carried out.

          The Minister accused Fine Gael TD for Donegal South, Mr Dinny McGinley, of being "misinformed" in claiming that there was a "crisis situation".

          Mr Rooney told The Irish Times last night that PDFORRA had withdrawn its pay claim "about three weeks ago".

          "The main area of concern is the ongoing hostile working environment."

          Mr McGinley has called on the Minister and his Department to "immediately resume serious negotiations to defuse a rapidly deteriorating situation".

          As reported by The Irish Times, PDFORRA has withdrawn from the conciliation and arbitration mechanism under which it had lodged the pay claim on behalf of winch crews. The Department of Defence has said it is committed to finding a solution, but can only do so through the conciliation and arbitration mechanism.

          © The Irish Times


          • #6
            Its called malingering and is a serious offence against Military Law.


            • #7
              Air Corps winch crew in dispute redeployed
              Lorna Siggins, Marine Correspondent
              Irish Times

              The Air Corps row over pay and conditions among search-and-rescue crew took a new twist last night when winch crew were redeployed to other duties.

              The Defence Forces confirmed that 11 winch crew who were assigned to the Sligo search-and-rescue base had been posted back to Air Corps headquarters at Baldonnel in west Dublin.

              A spokesman said the Sikorsky S-61 medium-life helicopter now flown by the Air Corps from Sligo would have limited capability for search-and-rescue, as it would no longer have winching crews.

              The spokesman said efforts would be made to restore a full service. The helicopter would be able to carry out rescues in certain situations, the spokesman said, while acknowledging that most offshore incidents call for experienced winch personnel.

              PDFORRA, the union representing winch crews, could not be contacted last night, but individual members said it was a "devastating development" at a time of deteriorating relations within the defence wing.

              The move represents a considerable blow to Air Corps efforts to expand its medium-range capabilities. A Sikorsky S-61 has been leased for a three-year period by the Government at a cost of €16 million, following last year's cancellation of the contract to purchase replacement aircraft for the defence wing.

              The helicopter has been stationed at Sligo Airport since earlier this year, and crews have transferred from Finner Camp. The north-west unit is the sole remaining Air Corps search-and-rescue base, as the State's three units at Dublin, Shannon and Waterford are run on contract to the Irish Coast Guard by CHC Helicopters.

              During the summer PDFORRA raised concerns about safety issues within the unit and denied that this was linked to a pay claim for winch crews which it had lodged with the Department of Defence. Last month the union withdrew the claim from the conciliation and arbitration scheme and claimed that the Department's offer on pay was insufficient.


              • #8
                So what price now the re-equipping of the Air Corps with medium lift helis? They have gone and blown it in my opinion. Its time the Defence Forces started taking on the bolshy wing of PDFORRA - before things get completely out of hand.


                • #9
                  What you have here,courtesy of the Oirish Times is another government inspired attempt to discredit the fine servicemen and women who have provided excellent SAR facilities to the state,even when ill equipped and supported.
                  Contrary to the statement of the wind up merchant above,it is instead high time the Dept of Defence started listening to the genuine concerns of the people who do the job,before we have a repeat of the tragic incident at Tramore(which was as everyone knows the Governments fault).

                  Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing.


                  • #10
                    So, do you think that the action taken by the winch operators will have the desired effect?


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Goldie fish
                      before we have a repeat of the tragic incident at Tramore(which was as everyone knows the Governments fault).
                      Goldie, what's this based on?


                      • #12
                        Well who are you going to blame? The AAIU report is pretty clear. They were under pressure to preform for the media that day,were not provided with accomodation suitably close for 24 hour ops,had an unsuitable aircraft and were pressurised to go on a mission where they were not required to "prove themselves"

                        Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing.


                        • #13
                          Rescue crew demoted after claims of safety lapses

                          Irish Independent

                          JIM CUSACK

                          THE Air Corps search-and-rescue service has collapsed following a decision to demote and remove to other duties 12 of its 17 rescue crew members who claim to have been bullied and harassed while trying to raise legitimate concerns over safety equipment.

                          The winch crews, who have the highest concentration of bravery awards in the entire Defence Forces with 16 Distinguished Service medals and several other awards between them, have become increasingly concerned that another fatal accident will occur as a result of the way the service is run by the Air Corps.

                          Before their demotions, 11 of the men had already applied for pre-discharge leave because of their growing concerns about a fatal accident. It is understood their applications had been turned down. They claimed conditions had become intolerable.

                          In an incident which was not publicly disclosed, a winch man who was lifting a diver suffering from the bends from a boat 15 miles off Fanad Head in Donegal on June 22 had to ditch into the sea after some of his equipmentmalfunctioned.

                          The winch man had just landed on the deck of the boat and connected the sick man to a lifting 'strop' when the quick release mechanism on his own harness failed. If the lift had continued, both he and the diver would have been in serious danger. He had no option but to disconnect and fall into the sea. Both were eventually lifted to the aircraftand the patient was taken toCraigavon Hospital in Co Armagh for treatment.

                          Crews have raised concerns about equipment throughout the past year. Some of the equipment had not been serviced in a year, it was claimed. When they were ordered to make an adaptation to the way their quick-release equipment was used, all the winch men protested that this actually increased the danger to their lives and refused to implement the change. A source close to the men said the proposal was "outlandish and dangerous". It was later withdrawn.

                          A source close to one of the crew men said that in another incident last month, while a helicopter was coming into land at Finner Camp in Donegal, a fire tender on the ground burst into flames because of a mechanical failure. No one was injured.

                          It has also been claimed that at one point, instead of a proper fire tender at Finner, the Air Corps had a jeep with hoses in the back but no water supply. The special four-wheel-drive fire tender designed to reach crashed aircraft in the sand dunes around Finner Camp was moved to the Baldonnel Aerodrome outside Dublin because the tender there was out of action.

                          In one incident, thought to be unprecedented in the history of Air Corps search and rescue, two crew members who protested about unserviced equipment in Finner were confined to their rooms.

                          The rescue crews have also expressed concern that the Air Corps helicopters do not have crash-resistant seats and that they have dangeroussingle-safety harnesses that only buckle across their laps. Most other rescue helicopters around the world have five-point safety harnesses that attach around the shoulders and body.

                          They were also worried about the safety harnesses which were not adapted to hold the small oxygen cylinders they would need if they fell into the sea and weresubmerged.

                          "The writing is on the wall. It is only a matter of time before someone else is killed," a civilian source close to the crews said yesterday, referring to the crash of a search-and-rescue helicopter at Tramore Strand in July 1999.

                          It is understood that a young officer, without the medical or other technical training of the crewmen, has been standing in as a winch man. A source close to the crews said using a young officer in this way is "suicidal".

                          The "last straw" for some of the crewmen is said to have been a speech by a senior Air Corps officer on September 19. In the speech, he compared air crews raising safety issues with officer pilots to "cabin attendants" on commercial airlines telling a pilot he was landing too fast. The rescue crews' concerns were raised in July by the military representative body, PDFORRA, but were rejected by the Defence Force's General Staff.

                          In a statement on July 3, the General Staff said it was committed to "implementing robust and enduring safety procedures to ensure a safe working environment" for all its personnel and serviceusers.


                          • #14
                            As you say, the AAIU report is fairly clear on the causes of the crash itself, but it's far too simplistic to blame these on "the government".

                            I'd say Air Corps management had a large part to play, both in the training deficiencies identified, and in the willingness to continue with operations under the circumstances of an aircraft of marginal capability for the mission, and poor facilities at Waterford.

                            Originally posted by Goldie fish
                            Well who are you going to blame? The AAIU report is pretty clear. They were under pressure to preform for the media that day,were not provided with accomodation suitably close for 24 hour ops,had an unsuitable aircraft and were pressurised to go on a mission where they were not required to "prove themselves"


                            • #15
                              Fair point, The air corps authorities failure to stand up to the government and demand they impliment the employers duty of care under the Health and Safety at work act would be another contributing factor.
                              I wrongly assumed you were trying to aportion blame on the crew or staff at Waterford.

                              Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing.