News Irish News

Sunday 22 April 2018

'I know now what heart-wrenching really means' - sister of R116 pilot

'Numb' family reveal how Dara's son (3) let go of a balloon for his 'mama to catch'
Captain Dara Fitzpatrick
Captain Dara Fitzpatrick

Catherine Devine and Ian Begley

The sister of Rescue 116 Captain Dara Fitzpatrick said it's "horrific" watching the families of the two missing crewmen wait to be reunited with their loved ones.

Niamh Fitzpatrick said her family were "taking one day at a time" as they dealt with the aftermath of the Rescue 116 helicopter tragedy.

The Coast Guard aircraft crashed just off Black Rock island, Co Mayo, in the early hours of March 14.

Winch operator Ciarán Smith (38) and winch man Paul Ormsby (53) have still not been found after their Sikorsky S-92 helicopter plunged into the water.

Captain Mark Duffy
Captain Mark Duffy

"We're feeling a mix of numbness and being inconsolable. Then there's this pause while we pray and hope for the families of Ciarán and Paul that they will be recovered," said Ms Fitzpatrick.


"We have Dara, but they don't have their loved ones. It's horrific watching their families suffer waiting for Ciarán and Paul to come back to them."

On Mother's Day, Dara's son Fionn (3) paid a tribute by letting go of a balloon for his "mama to catch".

A tricolour flying at half-mast outside St Oliver Plunkett Church in Blackrock, Co Louth, where the funeral of Captain Mark Duffy will take place today. Photo: Mark Condren
A tricolour flying at half-mast outside St Oliver Plunkett Church in Blackrock, Co Louth, where the funeral of Captain Mark Duffy will take place today. Photo: Mark Condren

"It was something he needed to do. It was beautiful, but horrific. It was just a balloon, but it means so much more. I know now what the word heart-wrenching really means," she said.

Ms Fitzpatrick said the public had been "amazing" and the family loved hearing stories about how Dara helped other people.

"We never knew that people could be so caring and warm. People have sent messages, brought us food and have been an incredible support," she said.

Paul Ormsby Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin
Paul Ormsby Photo: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

"The stories shared by people who Dara rescued have been amazing and heart-warming. They show how brilliant and caring she was and they marry the Dara we knew as a sister, mother and daughter to the woman that people knew as a coast guard.

"She would speak to casualties so reassuringly and she would genuinely tell them that they would be ok."

Ms Fitzpatrick said her family would respond to every message of support they received and she could not thank the public enough.

"We're asking people to donate to the RNLI because they brought Dara out of the water and had her in their boat before Rescue 115 arrived," she said.

Ciarán Smith
Ciarán Smith

"If people want to donate, that would be great."

Her colleague Captain Mark Duffy (51) was brought to shore on Sunday after Naval Service divers recovered his body from the cockpit of the helicopter wreckage. His funeral is due to take place today, and the community in the seaside town of Blackrock, near Dundalk, Co Louth, were united in grief as they prepared to bury one of their most esteemed heroes.

Hundreds of mourners arrived in small numbers at the home of Capt Duffy to pay their respects. Behind the hearse, two lines of Irish Coast Guard personnel along with others involved in the recovery formed a guard of honour.

One local man said that the town was left very shaken. "But thank God they managed to find his body. It's a comfort for the family. At least now they will be able to say goodbye," he said.

The family have asked for donations, if desired, to be given to the RNLI and stressed that Capt Duffy's wishes would be for the public to carry an organ donor card.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News