Thursday 19 October 2017

'Perfect, well-liked and selfless': The brave heroes of tragic Rescue 116

The crew of Rescue 116; (left to right) Paul Ormsby, Mark Duffy, Dara Fitzpatrick and Ciaran Smith,
The crew of Rescue 116; (left to right) Paul Ormsby, Mark Duffy, Dara Fitzpatrick and Ciaran Smith,

Alan O'Keeffe

The four crew members of Rescue 116 have been described as "well-liked", "respected" and "dedicated" individuals.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Mark Duffy, Ciaran Smith and Paul Ormsby were on board the Coast Guard helicopter which crashed six miles west of Blacksod on the west coast of Ireland.

Capt Fitzpatrick sadly passed away on Tuesday, while the other three crew members remain missing.

Each of the crew members have been described as heroes by friends and family, and by those whose lives they saved.

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick (45)

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, pilot and commander of the helicopter that crashed off the Mayo coast, had bravely saved lives for more than two decades on search and rescue missions.

The long-serving Coast Guard pilot was pronounced dead in hospital yesterday after she was plucked from the sea several hours after the air crash.

Capt Fitzpatrick (45) was from Kilternan in County Dublin and was a loving mother of a three-year-old boy. She was the most experienced helicopter pilot in the search and rescue service and colleagues paid tribute both to her professionalism and her popularity in the Coastguard service.

In a poignant statement, her family said: “We’re so proud of Dara’s work and all she has done to save the lives of others over the years.

"We are completely heartbroken and we pray for the recovery of the other three crew."

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

Capt Fitzpatrick described the life and death circumstances in which she regularly worked in a video interview produced by the Irish Bishops Conference in 2007 on the theme of encouraging young people to be moderate in their consumption of alcohol.

Describing her responsibilities, she said every decision is made as a crew. "My responsibility as captain is to get all of them back in one piece."

"You just have to be able to think on your feet and also think of the consequences of making a decision. You have to be able to get back to land," she said.

Capt Fitzpatrick had been living in Rathfarnham in recent years after transferring from Waterford to Rescue 116 at Dublin Airport.

A past pupil of the all-female Muckross Park College in Donnybrook, one friend recalled: "She was so determined. She was one of the first girls to drive to school in a car after she got her licence at 16. "

"And then she started taking helicopter lessons at 18. We all watched her career with huge interest – and when she appeared on the RTE series ‘Rescue 117’(when she was based in Waterford), we were thrilled for her.

"She was the perfect advocate for her job in Search and Rescue – and did everything she could to promote water safety."

"She was very well-liked – we were all shocked when we heard the news."

Capt Fitzpatrick, one of two female pilots in the Irish Coastguard, started flying in 1990 and began search and rescue at Shannon in 1993.

She became chief pilot in Waterford in 2002 before coming back to Dublin recent years. 

Her sister Niamh Fitzpatrick said: "My brave sister Capt Dara Fitzpatrick lost her life in Rescue 116 crash. We are devastated. Please pray for the recovery of three remaining crew."

Mark Duffy

Father of two Mark Duffy joined the Coast Guard in 2002 while living in Blackrock, Louth with his wife Hermione. A much-respected man in his community, Mark once surprised son’s school, St Francis National School, in 2015 by arriving in the coast guard’s helicopter.

Mark was also involved in the helicopter rescue over the weekend, helping to save the lives of a father and son.

A source said a St Patrick’s Day parade due to take place in his hometown has been cancelled following reports of his death.

In 2014, the Irish Independent featured the lives and seaside home of Mark and his wife. In 2002, Mark got his dream job as a coastguard pilot in Dublin, and the family opted to base themselves again in Dundalk, near Hermione’s dad, who lives in Omeath, and her mum in Gormanston.

Dundalk Cllr Emma Coffey expressed her grief over the news of the accident.

"It was a terrible tragedy.   We take their work so much for granted - they’re constantly putting their lives on the line. I live in Dundalk but work in Drogheda and everyone is talking about it."

Ciaran Smith

The family of Ciaran Smith are still holding out hope that he may be alive. Friends of Mr Smith (38), who was the winchman on Rescue 116, have been left in shock at the tragedy.

Mr Smith lives in Oldtown, in north county Dublin, along with his wife Martina and their three young daughters.

Most of the locals in the small village know Mr Smith well and those who spoke to the Independent.ie revealed how he was a dedicated family man.

His colleague Shane Carney described him as a "great guy".

"He's a team player who is an extremely well-respected member of search and rescue.

"He's incredibly fit and always puts in a huge effort."

 Ciaran is a sports fanatic and is heavily involved in his local Wild Geese GAA club in both football and hurling.

"It is just absolutely shocking. I know Ciaran’s family is still holding out for the small hope he is going to be found alive. Ciaran is a great man, an absolute gent. Now I just feel numb," one close friend said.

The brave rescue worker and keen cyclist completed the 2,000km Race Around Ireland event in 2015, coming in sixth place. He undertook the gruelling seven-day challenge for charity, raising €10,000. “He has always been a very selfless man and he has always loved a challenge as well,” his friend said.

Paul Ormsby

Paul Ormsby was an experienced member of the Coast Guard helicopter team and worked as a winchman during rescues. His name was often in the news for his role in operations across the seas surrounding Ireland.

As far back as 2000 he was involved in a major rescue where 17 Spanish and Portuguese people were lifted from life-rafts after their ship caught fire.

The crew of the Milford Eagle, a British-registered Spanish craft, were forced to abandon ship when a fire broke out some 150 miles west of Shannon.

The rescuers were commended for their "tremendous courage" on that occasion and Mr Ormsby had flown countless further missions since.

Poignantly he was recently photographed with Captain Dara Fitzpatrick at the launch of the new Sikorsky helicopter for the East Coast region.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News