Poignant scenes as sea finally gives up remains of heroic R116 captain
The hearse carrying the tricolour-draped coffin slowly made its away from Blacksod pier as rescue workers guided their tragic colleague on his final journey.
Irish Coast Guard, Naval Service and Civil Defence workers walked solemnly alongside the remains of Capt Mark Duffy (51), who was recovered by a navy dive team from the Rescue 116 helicopter shortly before noon yesterday.
A lone piper from the Achill Coast Guard played 'Wrap the Green Flag' and 'The Dawning of the Day' as the cortege, including family members, accompanied the heroic father-of-two's coffin from the coastal town.
For the family, friends and colleagues of Capt Mark Duffy it was a bittersweet day; the relief of finally bringing their loved one home combined with the grief of losing his life in the most tragic of circumstances.
In a touching moment, the Shannon-based Rescue 115 helicopter shepherded Capt Duffy, on board the LE Samuel Beckett, to the shoreline.
Míchael O'Toole, an Incident Officer with the Irish Coast Guard, described it as a "poignant and challenging" day for the organisation.
"We've recovered our colleague Capt Mark Duffy. Our thoughts are with his family, his wife Hermione, daughter Esme (14), son Fionn (12), and his extended family," Mr O'Toole said.
"Equally the Coast Guard family are very cognisant we're still missing our two other colleagues and we maintain a focus on that and our thoughts are with them and Mark Duffy's family today."
"It's difficult to prepare for these things but I think the Coast Guard community in Galway and Mayo and those other volunteers that have attended today have acquitted themselves quite well in the dignity which they showed our dearest colleague," he added.
Capt Duffy's remains were brought to Mayo General Hospital, where a post-mortem examination will be carried out by the State Pathologist today. Supt Tony Healy said the families, while upset, had good news in the recovery of their loved one.
"Obviously it's a very upsetting time for them. The recovery of a loved one is good news from that point of view but obviously it's a tragic loss," Supt Healy said.
Efforts will now be made to lift the wreckage of the Sikorsky S-92 helicopter in an attempt to locate the remaining two crewmen - winch operator Ciaran Smith (38) and winchman Paul Ormsby (53).
This will be done with the help of flotation devices which will briefly raise the aircraft and allow a Naval Service dive team to examine under the wreckage.
Naval Service personnel said that visibility was at around 10m for divers, and that sea conditions were expected to remain favourable today.
Lieut Cdr Darragh Kirwan said: "We are into the end game of search and recovery and it is very much focused on Blackrock.
"The naval divers are playing a key part in that, along with the other agencies involved.
"The Samuel Beckett is still co-ordinating vessel searching on scene, and the Naval Service divers.
"The families are here and, at the end of the day, it is about the families," he added.
The fourth crew member, Capt Dara Fitzpatrick (45), was recovered from the sea following the fatal collision but was later pronounced dead.
Senior investigators said that "the hope" is that the two missing Irish Coast Guard members are in or near the main section of wreckage, but added the search area would be expanded if this was not the case.
Their families continue to wait and hope for their recovery and are regularly briefed by gardai on any developments.
"It's obviously very challenging for them and their loved ones are still missing," Supt Healy said.