Hero coast guard and mum-of-two 'was returning from search mission' when tragedy struck
Published 13/09/2016 | 07:30
Heroic volunteer coast guard Caitriona Lucas tragically lost her life at sea during a search and rescue mission in Co Clare.
The mother-of-two, originally from Ballyvaughan, Co Clare, was killed yesterday while trying to locate a man who had gone missing over the weekend.
Ms Lucas (41), a volunteer with the Doolin coast guard, was in a rigid inflatable boat (RIB), searching for missing teacher David McMahon.
Ms Lucas was part of a three-person crew searching off the coast around Kilkee Bay, when the boat she was in capsized in difficult weather conditions.
It is now understood the group were returning to base when they got into trouble.
Irish Coastguard Operations Director Declan Geoghegan told RTE Radio One's Morning Ireland; "That crew had radioed around midday and said they had completed the mission and were ready to return to base.
"Very soon afterwards, they broadcast a mayday call. We didn't get much information from it, we obviously have to listen again but I understand that it was the mayday itself which indicated they were in grave and imminent danger
Search and rescue helicopters and rescue boats were dispatched as part of a massive search operation to find the volunteers.
Ms Lucas, whose partner Bernard also volunteers for Doolin coast guard, was taken out of the water by Shannon-based helicopter Rescue 115 at around 2.15pm.
It is understood she had been in the water for around one hour at the time. Emergency crews found her unresponsive.
She was airlifted to University Hospital Limerick (UHL) but was declared dead a short time later.
- Read more: 'The whole town is stunned': Tributes pour in for 'hero' coast guard who lost her life
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Jenny Carway (51), another member of the crew, had been discovered and taken out of the water in a RIB around 30 minutes before Ms Lucas was found.
She was taken at first to Kilkee garda station where she was treated by paramedics and then transferred to UHL, where she was recovering last night.
Another of her brave volunteer colleagues, James Lucey (49), was discovered in a cave underneath a cliff.
About 5.30pm he was rescued from the cave by Waterford-based helicopter Rescue 117.
That operation was described as "highly dangerous" because the capsized boat had trapped him in the cave.
Rescue workers were forced to abseil down the cliff to get a rope to Mr Lucey, who was winched to safety by a helicopter. There were serious concerns about hypothermia, given the amount of time he was in the water. He was also taken to hospital, where his condition is not thought to be serious.
It is understood there were force five winds when the boat capsized. The crew had been in an area that was known to be dangerous, due to the presence of a reef.
Swells on the sea were around three metres high and it is believed the boat turned over as the crew tried to get behind the reef.
An investigation has been launched into the tragedy.
A coast guard official told the Irish Independent that one theory was the crew may have seen something in a cave before deciding to investigate.
- Read more: Volunteers run bulk of Coast Guard
- Read more: Seaside towns plunged into grief at death of mother-of-two
"They are very well trained and have the best equipment, but when you go into the water anything can happen," he said.
He spoke about the bravery of coast guard volunteers, who give their time and risk everything to help others.
"This is a black day for us. These are volunteers who risk their lives everyday to save others. [Caitriona Lucas] was a hero," he said.
While Ms Lucas was stationed at Doolin, the two surviving volunteers were members of the Kilkee coast guard.
Manual De Lucia, a member of Kilkee Marine Rescue Service and knows both survivors of the tragedy, told Newstalk Breakfast: "It's devastating because we are a very tight knit community here and everybody looks out for everybody else.
"This is so tragic that it will take a long time to get over. This young lady that was lost, my sympathies and all the sympathies of Kilkee Coast Guard Rescue Recovery service go out to her husband and family."
Ms Lucas lived in Liscannor with her husband and two young children and worked as a librarian in Clare.
She was described by those who knew her as a "dedicated" and "selfless" woman.
Declan Geoghegan, operations manager with the Irish Coast Guard, said there would be an inquiry into what caused the vessel to capsize.
The Irish Coast Guard said in a statement: "The Coast Guard extends sincere condolences to Lucas family and all the volunteer members of the Doolin and Kilkee units."
Search for missing man ended in a terrible loss
7.30am - Searches for teacher David McMahon, who has been missing since last Friday, resumed.
9.10am - The shift changed over and Irish Coast Guard volunteers Caitriona Lucas, Jenny Carway and James Lucey took over the search off the coast off Kilkee, Co Clare.
12.50pm - It is believed that around this time one of the team may have spotted something in a cave below a cliff. They decided to investigate.
1.15pm - The rigid inflatable boat RIB which they were travelling in got into trouble. The wind was around force five but the area is known to be dangerous, with swells of up to three metres caused by reefs.
1.15pm - The crew sent a mayday call to indicate they were in trouble. The boat turned over.
1.45pm - A Delta RIB rescued Jenny Carway from the water.
2.15pm - Around half-an-hour later, Shannon-based helicopter Rescue 115 took Caitriona Lucas from the water.
She was unresponsive and declared dead a short time later.
2.15pm - 5.20pm - Rescuers located the remaining crew member, James Lucey, but efforts to rescue him were hampered because his capsized boat had trapped him in a cave underneath a cliff.
5.30pm - Mr Lucey was rescued from the cave. He was winched to safety and taken onboard Waterford-based helicopter Rescue 117 following a difficult operation in which Coast Guard members abseiled down the cliff face.