A Garda and father of four has died after a freak diving accident off the Wexford coast.
Off-duty Garda David Hearne was involved in a club dive on a old wreck on the seabed some 15km off the coast - with the dive club on standby to assist if required in the nearby search for missing Wexford fisherman Dominic Sinnott
Garda Hearne, who was attached to a Traffic Corps unit in the south east, was an accomplished diver and had received multiple awards for water rescues over the years.
He had saved seven lives in the space of just three years thanks to his water safety skills.
The diver previously worked with the Garda Water Unit.
He was a keen diver with a local marine sports club and they were engaged in a recreational dive on an old wreck some distance off the Wexford coast.
Some 10km away a search was ongoing for a fisherman who went missing off Hook Head last Friday.
The divers are understood to have been on standby to assist in that search if required.
However, they were not involved in the search for fisherman Dominic 'Dom' Sinnott when the tragic accident occurred.
Mr Sinnott vanished off the Wexford coast around lunchtime last Friday and a major search operation has been mounted for him, supported by rescue services.
The off-duty Garda suffered a severe attack of the 'bends' or decompression sickness apparently as he surfaced from the dive on the old wreck.
The incident occurred shortly after lunch yesterday.
He was immediately assisted by dive colleagues and the Irish Coast Guard helicopter raced to the scene to assist in his transfer to hospital.
Rescue R117 had been airborne, with a number of RNLI lifeboats active in the area, as part of the search operation for Mr Sinnott.
Tragically, despite frantic attempts to stabilise the diver's condition, he was pronounced dead before he could be transferred to University Hospital Waterford (UHW) and a special decompression unit.
Gardai in Waterford and Wexford have expressed shock at the tragedy and the death of a hugely respected colleague.
"The entire force is in shock," one Garda involved in search and rescue operations said.
"He was the nicest guy you could ever work alongside. He has received numerous awards over the years for his commitment to life saving."
Tributes to Garda Dave Hearne (46) were led by Irish Bravery Awards Council (IBAC) Chairman Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl TD who noted that the young garda followed in the brave footsteps of his father who was also honoured for his courage in 1958.
"I was deeply saddened to learn of the tragic death of Garda Hearne in Wexford," he said.
"He was a worthy recipient of a certificate of bravery in 2016 which was awarded to him for rescuing a man from the Colligan River in Waterford some years earlier."
"In his selfless service to others, Garda Hearne followed in the footsteps of his father, Declan, who was a bravery award recipient in 1958. My thoughts and prayers are with Garda Hearne’s wife, children and wider family at this time," he said.
A Waterford Ambulance Service spokesperson said: "Our thoughts and prayers are with our colleagues at Waterford Garda Station following the untimely death of their colleague Garda Dave Hearne."
"He was a very popular and a highly decorated guard having won a number of awards for bravery. Sincere sympathy to his family, friends and work colleagues at this most difficult time."
Another tribute was paid by Dunmore East Coast Guard where volunteers knew Garda Hearne very well.
"He will be remembered for his selfless commitment to the community in which he was stationed, borne out by his receipt of numerous bravery awards. We would like to convey our sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues at Waterford Garda Station."