The inquests into the deaths of four Coast Guard crew members who were on board Rescue helicopter 116 have been adjourned, after preliminary evidence was heard.

The inquest will resume when a joint garda/Health and Safety Authority investigation into the accident is completed.

At today’s hearing in Béal an Mhuirthead (Belmullet), evidence was given about the extensive search operation that was launched when the Sikorsky helicopter crashed into Blackrock Island on 14 March 2017. 

The bodies of two of the crew members - Captain Dara Fitzpatrick and Captain Mark Duffy - were recovered in the aftermath of the tragedy. Their colleagues - Winch Operator Paul Ormsby and Winchman Ciarán Smith - remain lost at sea. 

The Coroner, Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald, accepted evidence given by those involved in the search effort that allows her to pronounce both missing men dead.

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The inquest heard that the body of Dara Fitzpatrick was recovered from the water near Blackrock island, around two hours after the last recorded contact from the helicopter. Efforts to revive her on board an RNLI Life Boat were not successful. A post-mortem examination found she died as a result of drowning. 

Her colleague, Mark Duffy, sustained fatal injuries when the helicopter crashed. His body was recovered 12 days after the accident, following an extensive effort to access the cockpit of the aircraft wreckage. 

It was located at a depth of 38m, around 100m from the face of Blackrock Island. 

Despite initial hopes that the wreckage might contain the remains of Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith, search teams found no trace of them. 

Representatives from the Naval Service and the Air Accident Investigation Unit detailed how the recovery operation had been hampered by sea conditions and the underwater terrain. 

The Chief Investigator at the AAIU, Jürgen White, said the search was carried out in the most difficult conditions he had ever encountered. 

As the investigations into the crash are ongoing, the inquest was adjourned. 

Gardaí say it will take a number of months before they complete their investigation.

When asked if anything was delaying the process, Inspector Gary Walsh told the Coroner that some documentation was being sought but that detectives hoped to expedite matters in this regard. 

A file will be sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, when the garda inquiry concludes. This will determine whether criminal charges are brought in relation to the crash. 

After the formal proceeedings concluded today, statements on behalf of the relatives of three of the crew members were read. 

They paid tribute to the Coast Guard members and referred to the legacy their short lives had left behind. 

The Coroner said it was important that the inquest acknowledged that the four strong crew had paid the ultimate price in the service of others.