Belfast Telegraph

Helicopter pilot killed in Coast Guard crash was star of TV documentary

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, the first named victim of the Coast Guard crash, was a ground-breaking pilot well known for her starring role in a fly-on-the-wall television show about the life-saving service.

The 45-year-old Dubliner had been carrying out search and rescue missions for over two decades and was recognised with honours and a place in the aviation history books.

At the age of 18, she forsake a hoped-for career in business for daredevil missions in the skies after being "hooked" on her first helicopter trip.

"I heard an ad on the radio for half an hour in a helicopter," she said in 2007.

"I went up in the helicopter and that was it - I was hooked."

Two years later, while based at Waterford Coast Guard helicopter base, she told the Munster Express newspaper it was an unlikely trajectory.

"If someone had told me when I was quite young that I'd be doing this for a living, I'd have thought they were nuts," she said.

"I got my own licence and I was working for a businessman for a year, year-and-a-half when the Coast Guard advertised for co-pilots.

"That was at a time when Shannon was the only Coast Guard helicopter base in the country so I applied for it and got it. I stayed there until 2002 and came over to Waterford and I love it here."

After mastering a single engine aircraft, she got to grips with a twin engine and then flying the aircraft by instruments as she rose through the ranks to become one of the service's most experienced.

A year long stint in Aberdeen, flying onto oil rigs, gained her valuable experience in piloting crew.

After rejoining the Irish Coast Guard service, under the employment of CHC which is contracted to provide the service, Ms Fitzpatrick received an award in 2010 for her role in rescuing a stricken pilot when his light aircraft crashed into the Irish Sea.

The same year she co-starred in Rescue 117, a fly-on-the-wall documentary series on State broadcaster RTE, given behind the scenes access to the Irish Coast Guard's helicopter search and rescue service.

Just three years ago, she flew into the Irish aviation history books when, as one of two female Coast Guard pilots, she piloted the first all-woman mission for the service.

The pair flew a cardiac patient from west Co Cork to Cork University Hospital before transferring a critically-ill five-year-old child from the hospital to Temple Street Children's Hospital in Dublin.

Ms Fitzpatrick later returned to her native Dublin to become captain of the Coast Guard helicopter base in the Irish capital.

She was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean at around 7am - six hours after the helicopter mysteriously vanished without alerting authorities to any danger - and deemed to be critically ill but was later pronounced dead.

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