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Irish Coast Guard helicopter crash: Crew member who died after rescue is named as Captain Dara Fitzpatrick

By Robin Schiller, Cathal McMahon, Amy Molloy and PA

A woman crew member from the Irish Coast Guard helicopter missing off the west of Ireland, who was pulled from the Atlantic but died, has been named as Captain Dara Fitzpatrick.

She was one of four crew members on board Rescue 116 which crashed six miles west of Blacksod.

The other three crew members have yet to be recovered.

Capt Fitzpatrick, who was 45, was pronounced dead in hospital, Gerard O'Flynn, VS&T Operations Manager of the Irish Coast Guard confirmed.

She was one of very few female civilian pilots worldwide.

She featured in the RTE series Rescue 117 leading dramatic rescues by the crew at Waterford helicopter base.

Captain Fitzpatrick had over 20 years flying experience and was chief pilot in Waterford since 2002. She described her job as "challenging and exciting" during the filming of Rescue 117.

Mr O'Flynn said: "It is with our deepest regret we can confirm one of the pilots was Captain Dara Fitzpatrick.

"Dara has been pronounced dead. Dara was the most senior pilot and has been with the company for close on 20 years.

"Outside of her work as a pilot she did an enormous amount of work on water safety and was always available to do school visits and promote water safety.

"For all of us involved in the Coast Guard and for particularly her family it has come as a complete shock.

"And we want to extend our sincere sympathy to all her family and her flying colleagues in the CHC and simply to everybody who knew her.

"The operation is continuing, and we are continuing to recover wreckage out there.

"The whole operation is being done in conjunction with the Air Accident Investigation Unit who have been on scene all morning."


A spokesman for the service confirmed that they lost contact with the rescue chopper at approximately 1am this morning.

The Dublin-based crew had been providing top cover for another Coast Guard helicopter that was performing a medical evacuation (medevac) off the coast of Mayo.

Rescue 116 was returning to base when it fell out of contact.

A large amount of debris was found this morning one crew member was recovered in a critical condition.

Search and rescue helicopters from Shannon and Sligo are currently searching for the missing craft.

Support is being provided by the Irish Air Corp Casa aeroplane, all-weather lifeboats from Ballyglass and Achill and five local fishing vessels.

The LE Roisín arrived at the scene shortly after 9am and naval divers are also on standby.

A member of An Garda Siochana and the Air Accident Investigation Unit are also being brought aboard the naval vessel as the search for three missing Coast Guard members continues.

Speaking at the lighthouse in Blacksod, Gerard O'Flynn, VS&T Operations Manager of the Irish Coast Guard, said that a number of vessels are currently involved in the search operation.

"At the moment the search is ongoing and it's been coordinated by the rescue coordination centre in Mallon. We're rotating the two coast guard helicopters in Sligo and Shannon.  Ballyglass and Achill RNLI are assisting the search. Six fishing vessels and the naval ship, the LE Roisin are also involved," he told Independent.ie

A small amount of debris has also been recovered from the shore near the Blacksod lighthouse, as Gardai, Coast Guard members and investigators remain at the scene.

Gary Bohan from Belmullet, who is involved in the operation and spent the morning recovering debris in a rib, said he had never come across an aviation accident of this scale.

"We got involved at about 9am this morning. The conditions are bad. The debris is scattered across about two miles. The biggest part that came out is about half the size of a (truck) dirt panel.

"There's bits the size of a microphone out there to. It's all over the place. We came in about 10 minutes ago. We recovered pieces of the side panel and pieces of rotor blade. Tiny bits of objects are out there as well. We got the biggest of it but left the small stuff.

"The water is getting dirtier as well. There'd be about four or five trawlers out there at the moment. RNLI, Ballyglass a couple of guys are after going out in ribs as well. There's four or five five fishing boats out there as well. The conditions are getting worse, even though it's calmed down a bit."

Asked if it's a hard operation to be involved in, Mr Bohan said: "We're just trying to do our bit for the community. Doing our best that's all we can do.

"On the aviation side of things I've never seen anything like this. I've seen boats sink and tragedies like that but nothing on this scale. We're heading out again later on. The size of the area is getting bigger. The site at the moment is two square miles, but as the day gets on it's only going to get bigger and larger and larger, because the debris is scattering. It will definitely be floating north. Hope to God something will come a shore."

In a statement a spokesman for the Coast Guard said: "The Sligo based Coast Guard helicopter R118 completed an early morning medical evacuation (medevac) of a crewman requiring urgent medical attention from a UK registered fishing vessel approximately 150 miles west of Eagle Island in County Mayo.

"Owing to the distance involved safety and communication support, known as Top Cover, was provided by the  second Coast Guard helicopter, the Dublin based R116."

The statement read: "At approximately 1am contact was lost with one of our SAR Helicopters. A major sea search is ongoing off the county Mayo coast approximately six miles west of Blacksod.

"The search operation is being coordinated by the Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Centre in Malin Head. Both helicopters refuelled at Blacksod prior to transiting to the scene."

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Coast Guard director Eugene Clonan described today as a "dark day for emergency services".

He said that hopes are fading for the three missing crew: “At this particular point in time, our hopes are fading of finding the remainder of the crew."

Fergus Sweeney, a photojournalist based out of Blacksod, told RTE Radio One that at approximately 1.30am the signal was lost from Rescue 116.

"At that stage the operation upped a gear."

"The situation at the moment is that we are none the wiser."

Asked what the mood is like in the community Mr Sweeney said: "Its a numbness, we have seen tragedies like this happen in the north sea off oil rigs," he said. "It's a sombre attitude, people are waking up and realising hat has happened at the coast here. It is kind of just bringing it home again here and the risk people take to help other people at sea."

Coast Guard sources said there was no evidence that the crew of the stricken helicopter had attempted to send a mayday call.

This would suggest that whatever happened, the crash was unlikely to have been caused by a mechanical fault.

But the sources stressed that it was too early in the investigation to speculate on the cause.

Tributes

A spokesperson for Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: "The Taoiseach is being briefed regularly here in the US on the Coast Guard helicopter accident that has taken place off the coast of Mayo.

"His thoughts are with the families of the brave crew and with the emergency crews currently working in the area."

The Republic's Transport Minister Shane Ross expressed deep concern at the news this morning.

"As the search for the Dublin based helicopter R116 is currently underway I would like to express my sincere support and sympathies for all those involved, particularly those family members who are awaiting news of their loved ones.

"This is an extremely difficult time for all concerned. As we await further information I would like to appeal for space to be given to the relevant professionals involved in the search operation to complete their work. Once again, I send my utmost support to all those affected."

Irish Housing Minister and avid sailor Simon Coveney admitted the loss of an Irish Coast Guard helicopter off the Mayo coast was "a dark day for Ireland's emergency services."

Mr Coveney, who previously worked with Irish Coast Guard officials while Marine Minister, admitted he was personally shocked by the tragedy.

"This sounds like it is going to be a very dark day for the emergency services," the Cork TD said.

"I have had the privilege of being in Irish Coast Guard helicopters and being winched up into them from boats."

"These are incredibly professional people and they provide an amazing service.

"They have helped to prevent so many deaths and tragedies at sea."

Last September brave volunteer Caitríona Lucas became the first coast guard member to die in the line of duty.

Ms Lucas, an active member of the Doolin coast guard in Co Clare, was part of a search and rescue operation in Kilkee when the tragedy struck.

More than 400 lives were saved last year by the service. The rescue missions were among 2,500 incidents co-ordinated from the agency's main bases at Dublin, Malin, Co Donegal, and Valentia, Co Kerry.

Irish Independent

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