Sunday 24 March 2019

'She would be so proud of the little boy that he's become' - Sister of Dara Fitzpatrick killed in Rescue 116 helicopter crash

Dara Fitzpatrick died when her helicopter crashed in 2017. Photo: Collins
Dara Fitzpatrick died when her helicopter crashed in 2017. Photo: Collins
Captain Dara Fitzpatrick died along with her three crew in the Rescue 116 tragedy in March 2017. Photo: PA
Laura Lynott

Laura Lynott

The sister of Rescue 116 Captain Dara Fitzpatrick said the pilot would be "so proud of the little boy" her son has grown into, as the family mark the two year anniversary of the tragedy tomorrow.

Dara's family said that she was thought of, not only as a talented aviator, but a devoted mother.

"Fionn is great.  He was a little baby when Dara died and he’s a little boy now," Dara’s sister, Niamh Fitzpatrick said.

"I think she would be so proud of the little boy that he’s become.  She gave him such a foundation, she’d be so proud of that."

Niamh told how, as the two year anniversary approaches, the pain her family felt had cut deeply as they continue to contemplate the loss.

"It’s a tough couple of days.  It gets different over time - maybe putting my psychologist hat on.  That first year, we were probably anesthetised," Niamh said.

"This year, we are dealing with the grief without anything to numb the pain, so there’s a reality about it.

"It’s shock the first year, with the trauma, as well as grief and it’s almost like you have to deal with that first before you deal with the grief.

"Everyone is different but I personally find it much harder this year."

On March 14, 2017, Dara and the rest of the crew of the 116 - Captain Mark Duffy, Paul Ormsby and Ciaran Smith - set off on a rescue mission off the coast of county Mayo but the craft crashed into the sea. 

All crew members were killed and the tiny community of Blacksod placed their lives on hold to help recover the bodies.

That search lasted 42 days, the longest search operation of its type on the island of Ireland.

Speaking on the Ray D’Arcy show on RTE Radio 1 today, Niamh thanked the community who’d devoted a month of their lives to helping find the crew’s bodies.

She also told about the touching and magical final moment she spent with Dara.

"That (last meeting) was on 12 March," she told D’Arcy. 

"And it was a Sunday. Myself and my twin sister and a cousin of ours, went for a walk on the beach in Sandymount.

"We came back home and Dara’s little son wanted to see my twin sister Orla.

"I don’t know where I got the idea, but I looked up Dara on my friend’s phone (on an app) and we found her, not even a kilometer away.

"She was with the little fella playing in a green area.  We followed the map and it kept twisting and turning.

"We came into this clearing and there they were. It’s now that I’m so grateful for that because you know, we are a close family. 

"Dara’s last few days, we were all in contact quite a lot.  I’m just so grateful to have that time with her now and I can think of it and see it - it’s so vivid in my head.

"We were all laughing.  He (Fionn) was two-and-a-half and I was doing things to make him laugh."

Niamh told how she knew her sister would not have stood for her family grieving too much and she would have expected them to be happy.

"They (the family) are doing as well as they can do," she said.

"The important thing is everyone wants to be okay.  You have to grieve but I don’t think anyone wants to get stuck in that grief.  And it’s important to live.

"I always say this:  Dara lost her life but if we don’t live, then we die when we are living.

"And she would kick our backsides for that, so everyone is doing as well as they can do."

Though she wished to be in Blacksod to mark her sister’s anniversary, Niamh said she would be unable to make the journey and some members of the family will travel to be there.

"There will be a few of us here together (in Dublin.) There will be a mass and that is how we will remember the four of the crew."

In a special thanks to the people of Blacksod, Niamh said:  "I’m really grateful for the opportunity to thank them.

"My way of putting this, is as a family member, it is in the absolute worst of times, that we were met with the best of humanity in that they could not do enough for us.

"This all happened in the middle of the night, we had a community woken up to this and they just dropped their lives.

"I don’t think we will ever be able to thank them but even to say the words, that I’m grateful for that."

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