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Irish Coast Guard volunteer who died in recovery bid named as Caitriona Lucas

Tributes pour in for 'hero' coast guard who lost her life

By Luke Byrne, Cian Murray and Caroline Crawford

Published 12/09/2016

The Irish Coast Guard pictured during a training exercise off Howth.
The Irish Coast Guard pictured during a training exercise off Howth.

A search and rescue volunteer has died trying to recover the body of a missing man off the west coast of Ireland.

Caitriona Lucas, of Doolin Coast Guard in Co Clare, was on a rigid inflatable with two colleagues when it capsized near cliffs in heavy Atlantic swell.

The mother-of-two had gone to sea with two colleagues in testing conditions off Kilkee in an attempt to recover the body of teacher David McMahon, from Lissycasey, Co Clare who went missing on Friday.

She is the first member of the Irish Coast Guard to die on duty.

It is understood a mayday was sent after the crew got into difficulty and the boat they were in flipped over at about 1pm.

Ms Lucas was airlifted unconscious from the water and repeated but unsuccessful attempts were made to resuscitate her.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said: " To learn of the death of Caitriona, and of injury to her colleagues brings home the real dangers our rescue personnel face and this awful news casts a dark shadow over people all over the island."

Shane Ross, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, said Ms Lucas had made the ultimate sacrifice.

"Caitriona was a member of that extraordinary group of men and women who dedicate their skills, time and passion so that others may be safe on our coastlines," he said.

"This is an appalling tragedy; the loss of a brave and valiant woman engaged in the most heroic of and unselfish of duties."

"Such remarkable courage and heroism in the service of others is rarely equalled and never surpassed."

Mr Ross also praised the other rescuers involved and said: "I can only applaud their bravery and empathise with their sorrow on this very, very tragic day."

Ms Lucas , understood to be aged in her 40s, lived in Liscannor with her husband Bernard, who was also involved in Doolin Coast Guard.

Originally from Ballyvaughan in Clare, she worked as a librarian with the County Council and s he also trained her dogs with the Search And Rescue Dog Association.

Two other crew were rescued in the incident at the cliffs.

Jenny Carraway, aged in her 50s, from Kilkee and a member of the local Coast Guard unit, was said to be in a stable condition after being taken from the water.

James Lucy, the coxswain, also from Kilkee, was rescued more than four hours after the capsize.

He had scrambled on to rocks beside a cave at the bottom of cliffs but the spot was inaccessible from both air due to the gusting wind, heavy seas and overhanging rocks.

The rigid inflatable which capsized was also being thrown against the cliffs and blocked access by rescue teams from the sea.

A rescue crew abseiled about 100 feet down the cliff to reach the volunteer.

He was brought to safety by a Coast Guard helicopter winchman after teams moved him to a safe extraction point and was said to be in a stable condition but exhausted and badly shaken.

Manuel Di Lucia, a founding member of the former Kilkee Marine Rescue which later became the Coast Guard unit, expressed how the trauma of the tragedy would hit local coastal communities.

"This will have a devastating impact on the whole community here locally," he said.

"These people have been carrying out these operations for the last years, the coxswain was a former member of the marine rescue. It's very tragic for the whole area.

"There's a lot to be learnt from this incident."

Members of Lissycasey GAA club, who had been out on the shorelines for the last three days searching for their friend Mr McMahon, extended their condolences to the search and rescue teams.

The 33-year-old married man had trained with his teammates the night before he went missing.

Timmy Dooley, Fianna Fail TD for Clare, was at the scene for two hours while efforts were made to bring the coxswain away from danger.

"It's devastating for the two families of the two communities," he said.

"What makes it even worse is that someone in the line of duty, a frontline worker, has lost their life ... it brings into sharp focus what people in the frontline encounter on a daily basis."

RNLI and Coast Guard crews from around the country paid tribute to the volunteers caught up in the tragedy.

Two Coast Guard rescue helicopters were involved in the operation at different stages while the RNLI crew from Kilrush on the Shannon estuary also joined initially efforts followed by the lifeboat team from the Aran Islands.

Fire and ambulance crews were also called in and assisted in the cliff face absail by members of Doolin Coast Guard while local divers and the Lahinch Surf Rescue Team were also involved.

It is understood rough weather had delayed the search for Mr McMahon and there were reports of heavy swells before the tragedy struck.

An investigation will be carried into the incident by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board.

The Irish Coast Guard added: " The Coast Guard extends sincere condolences to the Lucas family and all the volunteer members of the Doolin and Kilkee units.

"The Coast Guard also wishes to thank all the other organisations that participated in today's search."

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