Belfast Telegraph

Tributes paid at funeral of Coast Guard helicopter crew member killed in crash

Captain Mark Duffy, who died in the Irish Coast Guard helicopter tragedy, was a "charming, handsome and bashful daddy hero", his funeral has heard.

In an emotional service at St Oliver Plunkett Church in Blackrock, Co Louth, a friend read out a heart-breaking tribute from his wife and "soul mate" Hermione.

"We loved him so much, his quirks, his methodology, his absolute resolve at doing anything right, his professionalism, his dancing, his quietness, his steely reserve, his selflessness, his absolute being was doing everything for us," she said.

"We - Hermione, Esme and Fionn - adore and love you Mark, our charming, handsome and bashful daddy hero.

"Guess how much I love you? I love you to the moon and back."

Uniformed pupils from the local schools - St Francis' National School and St Vincent's Secondary - had formed a guard of honour as the Tricolour-draped coffin of the pilot arrived along the coast road at the seaside church.

Inside the church grounds, uniformed officers and colleagues from the Irish Coast Guard, the Naval Service, the Garda, the RNLI, Fire Brigade and other rescue services took their turn to guard the remains as it was carried indoors.

A lone piper led the cortege to the strains of Dawning of the Day. Flags fluttered at half mast in the strong wind coming off the Irish Sea.

Hermione, daughter Esme and son Fionn led the mourners into a packed congregation which included President Michael D. Higgins, Transport Minister Shane Ross and Sinn Fein leader and local TD (MP) Gerry Adams.

Outside, Mr Higgins embraced the grieving family.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny was represented by his aide-de-camp Colonel Kieran Carey.

In her tribute, Hermione said they had been together 26 years and had done everything together as a team in their own "wee world" in their home by the sea.

"The sea, la mer, an fharraige - it pulled Mark to it," she said.

"Its ebb and flow, its colour, its waves, the stillness, the calm, the rage, the reflecting sun on the water, the low tide, the high tide - it was part of our lives."

The pilot loved aviation, and particularly helicopters, since he was a child, the funeral heard. His two great loves were his family and his job.

"Mark, on coming home from a 24-hour shift, would come in and say: 'Oh, Hermione, I love getting home to you and the kids, but I love flying that helicopter'," she recalled.

Once home, he would shut the door behind him and "engross himself in our home life".

He was a Coast Guard, she said, but "he was also our guardian".

"Mark always allayed my worries. He put a safety net around us in our home," she said.

"He was fearless. He lived consciously each day and week for the moment."

She recalled taking out old video footage last year of their children when they were younger and both of them, best friends as well as husband and wife, cried with "joy and love for the fun times and how fast time was flying by".

She added: "Never has it been so slow."

"All he wanted was to get Esme and Fionn safely to adulthood and have a little time for us again," she said.

"We had the conversation: should anything happen.

"He told me not to be afraid, to be strong, that he knew I could do it, that I was the better parent to do it. My heart is broken."

Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, the leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland, was among those officiating at the funeral.

Chief celebrant Father Stephen Duffy, an uncle of the pilot, said he had lost his "best friend".

He remembered his nephew as "kindly, humble in spirit, pure of heart, peace-loving, good-natured, loving and lovable".

"Indeed he had other attributes which singled him out - a vivacity, a tremendous sense of fun, a desire in all things to help and be of service," he added.

"Our only consolation is that Mark and his dad, Jimmy, who died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1979, are with God.

"But until we too are called there, there will be a great emptiness in our lives."

Parish priest Padraig Keenan said "a dark cloud" had descended over Ireland following the tragic accident of Rescue 116, adding that the families of the two crew members still missing are in everyone's thoughts and prayers.

Mr Duffy's remains were found in the cockpit of the crashed Sikorsky helicopter, about 13km (eight miles) off the coast of Co Mayo, last Friday.

The wreck lies 40m underwater, beside a lighthouse rock in the Atlantic Ocean.

His body is the second of the four crew to have been recovered after it crashed on March 14 while on a rescue mission.

The body of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, a 45-year-old mother-of-one, was the first to have been recovered from the ocean.

Searches are continuing for the other crew members, Winchman Ciaran Smith and Winch Operator Paul Ormsby.

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