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Sole Irish survivor of tragic helicopter crash dedicates book proceeds to niece 'with no lower limbs'

An Irish man who lost two close friends in a helicopter crash has marked their tenth anniversary by writing a book on the events of that day, dedicating all sale proceeds to his niece with a rare condition.

Almost a decade ago, Michael Gibbons was travelling home by helicopter to Galway with his two friends, Mark Reilly (49) and Damien Bergin (32), when a sudden dense fog completely blocked the pilot's vision, an unforeseeable event that lead to their devastating crash.

Damien Bergin, who had a private pilot's licence, was at the controls and before they left Waterford, he had phoned another pilot to check the weather in the Galway area. He was told that conditions were good.

Gibbons suffered extensive injuries in the crash to his head and body, physical trauma that left him "unable to work as we know it" and he will never fully recover.

In his book 'Survivor', Michael describes the events of that fateful day and the arduous recuperation path, attributing his somewhat unbelievable recovery success to the support of his friends and family.

"My mother Carmel and my sisters Karen and Norrie were fantastic. You could rely on them for anything. I was released from hospital because my mother and one of my sisters moved in with me and cared for me 24 hours a day for weeks after the accident."

"I've been very lucky with the friends and family I had, they really helped with the recovery," he told independent.ie.

But Gibbons has a different goal to fight for now, Karen's daughter, "a beautiful little girl by the name of Ciara", and he believes that Mark and Damien would really appreciate the gesture.

"When my sister was five months pregnant she realised that a threadlike vein in the womb had come loose and wrapped around Ciara's legs. She was born with no lower limbs," he told independent.ie.

"It was very fitting as [Mark and Damien] were exceptionally giving people. I thought it would be a nice way to mark their ten year anniversary by bringing out this book. I know the lads will be very pleased with that."

Michael recalls the day that he lost his "father figure" Mark and "brother figure" Damien with startling clarity, "like an Xbox game in high definition".

"We would have been going around 125km/h when we crashed... I remember that there was some low cloud... Damien nominated to increase our altitude up over a mountain called Derrybrien which was in front of us. The fog just kept getting thicker and thicker.

"It's not like a car where you can press a brake on it, you really have to slow down and turn around. At that stage, the fog was so thick that it was like if someone threw a white sheet over your car windscreen."

The exact trajectory of how the helicopter crashed remain unkown but Michael believes that as Damien turned to escape the dense fog, the rotor clipped off a tree and the helicopter went out of control. "I remember as we going down that the trees just kept hitting the windscreen harder and harder. At one stage I was convinced that one of the trees was just going to come and take one of our heads off."

But Michael still has fond memories of his friends "who were great characters and will always be remembered with a smile". And he attribute his survival from the crash to Damien's reactions in the adverse weather

"It was heroic what Damien did on the day. You really define a person - not by a decision they make in a split second - but really by how they behave when when you get into trouble. their real character comes out. He really saved my life that day."

'Survivor' is in bookstores now at a retail price of €14.99. All proceeds from the book will be going towards a fund to pay for Ciara's prosthetic legs for which she goes to the States twice a year.

Online Editors