Tuesday 24 October 2017

Mum of Aoife (14) who died on scouting trip thanks rescue services, her friend 'who did everything possible to save her'

'We are left with such a huge void in our lives, we will love and miss her forever'

Aoife Winterlich (left) and Anne Winterlich (right)
Aoife Winterlich (left) and Anne Winterlich (right)

Louise Roseingrave

The mother of a 14-year-old girl who died on a scouting accident at Hook Head has paid tribute to rescue services "who did everything possible" to save her.

In a moving statement at the end of an inquest into her daughter Aoife Winterlich’s death, Anne Winterlich said her daughter’s loss had left a huge void for the family.

She thanked the air accident crew whose actions gave the family "precious time" to say goodbye to Aoife.

"Our beautiful Aoife, so adorable and funny in nature. She had a kind disposition, so creative, a wonderful artist. We are left with such a huge void in our lives, we will love and miss her forever," Mrs Winterlich said.

She thanked Phillip Byrne, a friend and fellow scout who tried to rescue Aoife after she was swept out to sea.

"Myself and my family wish to sincerely thank the Air Accident crew for doing everything possible to save Aoife and Phillip. It is because of these men and Phillip that we were given precious time to say goodbye to our beautiful daughter and sister.

"We will be forever grateful to Phillip for his bravery and for the love and friendship he showed to Aoife. To the other children present that day, we would like to thank you too," Mrs Winterlich said.

The Waterford Coastguard helicopter arrived at Hook Head at 2.15pm on Sunday December 6, 2014. The crew winched both casualties to safety but Aoife, who remained unconscious, slipped from her harness and fell 40-feet into the sea below.

The late Aoife Winterlich
The late Aoife Winterlich

She was immediately winched back to safety and transferred to hospital.

At Dublin Coroner’s Court Coroner Dr Myra Cullinane returned a verdict of death by misadventure.

The coroner made a recommendation for a general review of supervision arrangements for children particularly in relation to potentially hazardous activities.

"This is a recommendation that should be directed at any group that has supervision of children where there are potential hazards," Dr Cullinane said.

The coroner also recommended that signage at Hook Head lighthouse alert the public to the dangers of the area as illustrated by the circumstances of Aoife’s death.

Dr Cullinane commended the family’s "very generous" decision to donate Aoife’s organs as "a wonderful gift for a significant number of families."

The coroner noted the loss of Aoife’s father, Martin Winterlich, in the weeks following Aoife’s death.

"This has been a very difficult inquest to hear. I know Aoife was a cherished daughter and the family has suffered the loss of Aoife’s father since. I hope this process can assist you in coming to terms with your loss," the coroner said.

Anne Winterlich said she hoped changes would be made to prevent similar tragic loss of life.

"Children should always be surpervised and kept safe during organised trips. We hope changes will be made to make sure this never happens again," Mrs Winterlich said.

A previous inquest hearing on September 6 heard there were no significant injuries to Aoife’s body besides bruises and scrapes possibly sustained as she lost her footing on the rocks and was swept out to sea.

The cause of death was brain damage due to a near drowning, according to a post-mortem report.

After she fell from the harness, Aoife was retrieved from the sea and winched back to the helicopter within one minute and 15 seconds.

She was transferred to Waterford General Hospital and later to Crumlin Children’s Hospital where she was pronounced dead five days later on December 11.

The group of 14 scouts, aged between 14 and 17, had arrived at Hook Head lighthouse, taken a tour and had been given 20 minutes free time to eat their lunch when the tragedy unfolded.

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