Our maritime environment gives so much to so many people. Whether it be a source of living for coastal communities, essential transport services for an island nation or the pleasure of watersports, the waters of Ireland provide workspaces and playgrounds to a wide range of interests.
When tragedy strikes, those interests unite under a common banner, perhaps best, but inadequately, described as "seafaring".
The multi-agency response to the current Search and Rescue effort for R116 demonstrates how the maritime community is, if not joined at the hip, connected by sub-conscious ties. At a time like this, it is the Coast Guard that pulls the lines that brings seafarers from all disciplines together in a common cause. The Coast Guard itself, RNLI, Air Corps, Naval Service, fishermen, Gardai, Marine Institute, Irish Lights - separate entities but their common thread is the men and women who, to paraphrase Minister Ross, lend themselves to the cause of saving life at sea.
The news that R116 was tasked for an evacuation that involved a relatively minor injury shows just how deep this commitment runs.
When the loss of life hits the community that we expect to be our ultimate resource, if and when we have exhausted all other options, we are shocked by the realisation that they too are vulnerable.
And this despite extensive training and repetitive practice. Mark McGibney, coxswain of Dun Laoghaire Lifeboat, in an interview on Morning Ireland last week, emphasised the amount of practice they did with R116. He articulated the sub-conscious thoughts in the minds of many seafarers when he noted that the helicopter crews "had our backs".
Even as their colleagues grieve the loss of the crew of R116, these crews continue to "have our backs" and for that, this island nation must be truly grateful.
While it may be a matter of discussion as to whether or not Ireland is truly a maritime nation, there is no doubting the fact that we are an aviational people to a remarkable degree.
We’ve inherited a deeply-felt distrust of the sea. We live on an island which is only recently inhabited in terms of the full span of human history, and none of our remote ancestors came to Ireland other than by primitive boat. For every one who made it safely across in the earliest days of human settlement, there must have been hundreds, indeed thousands, who didn’t.
Thus it is perfectly natural to feel hostile to the sea and seafaring, and it’s only with the more rational outlook of recent times that we have been able to begin the serious development of proper maritime policies and attitudes.
But in the much newer area of aviation development, we have no atavistic hang-ups. In terms of exploiting the potential of air travel, we have rapidly become world leaders. Thus it was no surprise to learn last year that the Aran Islanders, remote in their Atlantic fastness, were much more concerned with the maintenance of their air link to Ireland than they were with any improvement of the ferry service.
So when our modern Coastguard Helicopter Search & Rescue Service started to develop properly twenty and more years ago, it simply felt right. Here was a wonderfully dedicated service in which the formerly acute differences between sea and land could be overcome by skilled crews who could search and rescue as readily among our most rugged mountains as they could far out to sea or under the most challenging cliffs of the coast.
In fact, the life-saving utilisations of the service are almost infinite in their variety, and we took it for granted on Sunday evening, for instance, when a Coastguard helicopter carried out a hospital transfer of a casualty from an accident site in the hills near Carlingford, an accident made inaccessible by other means as it blocked narrow roads.
Whether in the hills or sailing along the coast, we are reassured by the occasional presence of one of the distinctive red and white choppers simply going about its business, be it on a routine patrol, an exercise, or an actual rescue. We know that the best that can be done is being done. And we are reassured by their presence which, in its own unique way, is evidence of a society with a certain level of civilisation and quiet confidence.
It was perfectly normal that very few will have been aware when, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, a Coastguard Helicopter took off from Dublin and flew west for the Atlantic. It was a routine happening. The country was asleep. Life was as it should be. Yet we awoke to the growing realisation that it was unlikely the machine and crew would be returning.
It’s when such things happen that we realise just how much the red and white choppers mean to every one of us, and not only in the maritime community. Mere words are inadequate to express how much we appreciate what these people do, and are always willingly ready to do. They are a very important part of modern Irish life. We cherish them and what they do, and the loss off the Black Rock is very deeply felt.
#Rescue116 - Tributes have poured in for Dara Fitzpatrick, the senior pilot who lost her life in yesterday’s Irish Coast Guard helicopter incident off Blacksod in Co Mayo.
“It never occurred to Dara that she shouldn’t do this [type of work] because she was female, it wasn’t easy for her crew or her to be the only female in a male environment, but she was excellent at [her job],” said Niamh, a broadcaster with Today FM, who joined her family in vigil in Castlebar overnight.
President Michael D Higgins echoed those sentiments, saying in a statement: “We are all grateful for the courage, resolution and exemplary commitment to the aims of the Cost Guard that Capt Fitzpatrick and her colleagues have consistently displayed.”
Dara Fitzpatrick was one of the Irish Coast Guard’s most experienced officers, and one of the first women to fly for the Irish Coast Guard’s precursor, the Irish Marine Emergency Services.
Longtime Afloat readers will also recall the feature in June 1994 that highlighted Dara as a then 22-year-old co-pilot on helicopter rescues, four years after she began flying.
More recently, in 2013, Afloat.ie covered Capt Fitzpatrick’s pioneering missions as part of Ireland’s first all-female SAR helicopter crew.
Meanwhile, The Irish Times reports that searches continue off Blacksod in North Mayo today (Wednesday 15 March) for Capt Fitzpatrick’s three missing crew mates from Rescue 116 — who have been named as chief pilot Mark Duffy, from Dundalk, and winch men Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith, both from North Co Dublin.
A major sea search is ongoing off the county Mayo coast approximately six miles west of Blacksod this morning. At approximately 1am this morning contact was lost with a Coast Guard SAR Helicopter off the West Coast of Ireland during a rescue mission.
The Coast Guard has confirmed that there has been an incident involving one of its Search and Rescue (SAR) Helicopters. Four crew are onboard.
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross T.D. expressed deep concern at the news.
The Sligo based Coast Guard helicopter R118 completed an early morning medical evacuation (medevac) of a crewman requiring urgent medical attention from a UK registered fishing vessel approximately 150 miles west of Eagle Island in County Mayo. Owing to the distance involved safety and communication support, known as Top Cover, was provided by the second Coast Guard helicopter, the Dublin based R116.
The search operation is being coordinated by the Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Centre in Malin Head. Both helicopters refuelled at Blacksod prior to transiting to the scene.
Minister Ross said; “As the search for the Dublin based helicopter R116 is currently underway I would like to express my sincere support and sympathies for all those involved, particularly those family members who are awaiting news of their loved ones.
This is an extremely difficult time for all concerned. As we await further information I would like to appeal for space to be given to the relevant professionals involved in the search operation to complete their work. Once again, I send my utmost support to all those affected.”
With the coastguard at Shannon since 2002, Dublin native Ó’Cearbhalláin received among his honours a Distinguished Service Medal for his part in the rescue 27 years ago of four fishermen off Donegal while serving with the Irish Air Corps.
Irish Coast Guard director Chris Reynolds described Ó’Cearbhalláin as “a beautiful person, a friend, advisor and one of Ireland’s true and honest heroes.”
The Clare Herald has much more on the story HERE.
#Coastguard - The actions of a helicopter winchman during an incident in which a 14-year-old girl rescued from the sea fell back into the water have been found to be “sound” by an official investigation.
Aoife Winterlich died in hospital days after she and three other venture scouts were swept into the sea off Hook Head during an outing on 6 December 2015, as previously reported on Afloat.ie.
Two managed to swim to shore but Winterlich got in difficulty amid heavy seas, and the fourth youth, a 15-year-old boy, remained to keep her afloat till the Waterford-based Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 117 arrived.
Severe conditions prompted the winchman to lift both teenagers from the water at the same time. As the three reached the helicopter, Winterlich slipped from her strop some 45 feet back into the water.
Records show that the winchman was back in the water to retrieve Winterlich just half a minute after reporting her fall, according to the Air Accident Investigation Unit Report as covered in The Irish Times.
Tragically, however, she died four days later at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin.
“In the circumstances of this particular rescue, there is nothing to suggest that the winchman’s decision-making was anything other than sound,” the report said.
The Irish Times has more on the story HERE.
Both helicopters refuelled at Blacksod prior to transiting to the scene, some 180 miles north west of Erris Head.
The Russian crewman, who required urgent medical attention, was airlifted at 4.30am and transferred to Sligo University Hospital, where he was admitted shortly before 6am.
The operation was co-ordinated by the Marine Rescue Sub Centre in Malin Head.
Established in 2005, the Schull Community Inshore Rescue Service will be officially renamed as Schull Coast Guard later this month after two years of talks on assimilating the West Cork volunteer rescue service with the national SAR agency.
A reception is planned to mark the change, details of which will be announced on the SCIRS Facebook page.
The Southern Star has more on the story HERE.
Works to be completed by the middle of next year will see the demolition of the existing 600 sqm hangar with a 2,000 sqm facility from where Ireland’s four SAR bases — at Dublin, Sligo, Shannon and Waterford — will be co-ordinated.
Coast Monkey has more on the story HERE.
Coastguard and RNLI teams recovered the casualty, believed to be an experienced water sportsman, after he went missing between Hodson Bay and the village of Lecarrow. He later died at Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe.