Thursday 22 February 2018

'We are shattered... when it happens on your door step, it hits you hard'

The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash.
Picture: Steve Humphreys
The search and rescue at first light at Blacksod Pier after the Rescue 116 helicopter crash. Picture: Steve Humphreys

Robin Schiller in Blacksod, Mayo

The communities of Blacksod and nearby Eachléim have seen tragedies in recent years.

In one accident, a fisherman was rescued when given a life jacket by his son after their boat was wrecked. His son unfortunately was never located, say locals.

It is perhaps this unwanted experience of dealing with the most harrowing circumstances, that somehow helped prepare them for this new tragedy. The men and women in the quiet town on Ireland's west coast have reacted with unbelievable and much-needed warmth to help in the darkest of circumstances.

"We've been feeding the families of the missing members, the rescue workers, gardaí, all that," said Maureen Ruadhain of the local heritage centre.

"Since we got the sad news on Tuesday morning, the doors were open. Everybody pulled up their sleeves and got together and started working and ran for food, and the community [response] has been overwhelming. There's been food coming in from every corner."

Ms Ruadhain, who has lived in the area all of her life, said locals had been left shattered by the tragedy.

"This is the worst one we've had. We've had single cases, we've had other tragedies, suicides, other incidents, but this is the biggest one, because there are four [missing or dead].

"The community has been shattered by this. You hear of it happening around the country, but when it comes on your own door step, it hits you hard."

A group of volunteers and staff have been working around the clock to provide food, and comfort, to those hit hardest by the tragedy.

On Wednesday, 120 were catered for in the small building. That figure rose considerably yesterday.

The goodwill and desire to help in any way extended to local fishermen, whose vessels have been used for the last four days to recover debris. It was also shown in the volunteers of the Civil Defence, who have been working long days in the search for R116 and its three missing crew.

Civic Defence Officer Rose Doherty, who has been working with the service for nine years, said that her Castlebar-based volunteers were ready at a moment's notice, prepared to take time off their paid jobs to be part of the search operation.

"I sent out a text on Tuesday evening and I had 18 volunteers ready to depart from Castlebar. Some of them actually gave up a day's work to be here today.

"I've got numerous phone calls today off people asking if they are needed tomorrow on St Patrick's Day. They've said they will be available and to get in touch."

Coast Guard workers have said that no sonar scans or dives will take place until at least Sunday. The men and women of Blacksod and Eachléim will, until then, be on hand to help any way that they can.

Irish Independent

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