Belfast Telegraph

Tragic Coast Guard pilot Dara helped save many Northern Ireland lives

By Cate McCurry

Tributes have been paid to an Irish rescue helicopter pilot involved in dozens of lifesaving missions across Northern Ireland after her aircraft went down in the Atlantic.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick (45) was found in a critical condition as rescuers searched for the Irish Coastguard helicopter off the west of Ireland, but later died.

She was one of four crew members on board the helicopter which went missing near Blacksod in Co Mayo.

The three crew still missing have been named as Mark Duffy, Ciarán Smith and Paul Ormsby.

Hopes faded for the survival of anyone on the Sikorsky S92, which lost radio contact without any warning at around 12.45am yesterday.

Captain Fitzpatrick, the mother of a three-year-old boy, was part of a crew that was regularly involved in search and recovery operations throughout Northern Ireland, particularly in the Mourne Mountains.

She and her team shared a close working relationship with members of the Mourne Mountain Rescue Team.

Martin McMullan, rescue coordinator of Mourne Mountain Rescue, paid tribute to Captain Fitzpatrick, saying she went "above and beyond" the call of duty.

"Dara and her team always did the utmost to save and rescue casualties," he said. These people are professionals and it's much more than a job to them."

He said the crew from the Rescue helicopter 116 worked alongside his team up to 30 times a year in search operations and training.

He added: "Dara would have been working with us quite regularly.

"If we were to request an air asset the Dublin helicopter would be our first point of call.

"Over the years we would have formed a very strong working relationship.

"In situations where it's time critical, the work of Dara and others make the difference between life and death. It can reduce not just the trauma for the casualty but also reduces the pressure on our team."

Just days ago her helicopter was part of a rescue operation after a walker was injured on Slieve Foy in the Cooley Mountains.

Captain Fitzpatrick was also at the centre of a major search operation for two men after their microlight plunged into the sea north of Glenarm in Co Antrim last year.

The pilot from Dublin helped oversee the air, land and sea search for the two Yorkshire men when their aircraft went missing after taking off from City of Derry Airport in June.

She further helped facilitate the rescue of Sam Cully from Portavogie, who was taken to hospital after his fishing boat capsized near Portaferry in 2013. The fisherman later thanked his rescuers who he said saved his life.

The Bangor RNLI paid tribute to the crew saying they were dedicated to saving others "while putting their own lives in peril".

The Facebook post added: "Our thoughts are with all who have been affected by this tragedy."

Foyle Search and Rescue also paid an online tribute: "Thoughts and prayers are with our colleagues in the Irish Coast Guard."

Ms Fitzpatrick was recognised with honours for her bravery and earned a place in the aviation history books.

Three years ago, she was one of two female Coast Guard pilots who carried out 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 child from the hospital to Temple Street Children's Hospital in Dublin.

She was known for her starring role in Rescue 117, a fly-on-the-wall documentary series on State broadcaster RTE, given behind the scenes access to the helicopter search and rescue service.

She is survived by her son, three sisters, brother and parents.

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