Pilot Dara was 'an angel in the sky'
THE EMERGENCY services turned out in force at county hall last Thursday when a book of condolences was opened for Dara Fitzpatrick, the captain of the tragic crew of the Rescue 116 helicopter lost when it went down off the Mayo coast.
All the county's Coast Guard and RNLI units were among those taking part in a sombre and moving occasion, an opportunity for them to gather together to share a common sense of loss.
Wexford people who knew members of Rescue 116 and those linked to the emergency services paid tribute to the lost crew as searches were still taking place for the three still missing.
The book will be extended when there is definite news on them, Capt Mark Duffy, winch operator Paul Ormsby and winchman Ciaran Smith.
The only crew member confirmed dead so far, pilot and mother of a three year old, Dara Fitzpatrick, was for some years based in Waterford with the Rescue 117 helicopter which serves the south east, including Wexford, and was well known to members of the emergency services in the county.
Lorraine Galvin, one of two female helms of the Wexford lifeboat, said she and other members of the crew knew Dara well, both as a friend and a highly professional pilot who always had their backs when she was flying Rescue 117 out of Waterford.
'It is particularly tragic to lose one of our guardians,' said Lorraine. She said that when she was based in Waterford Dara never said no to any requests for training and education and exhibited a level of professionalism that was second to none.
'It is particularly upsetting for fellow rescuers that such a tragedy happens,' said Lorraine.
Wexford former Mayor Cll George Lawlor, one of the founding members of Wexford MarineWatch, said he met Dara a couple of times during the Tall Ships Race in Waterford where she was chief pilot with Rescue 117.
'She was the bright, shining light of the Coast Guard,' he said.
'She was a superb helicopter pilot with the Irish Coastguard who lost her life doing what she did best - serving others,' he said.
The Order of Malta Wexford Unit issued a statement, saying 'our hearts and minds are filled with thoughts of the families, friends and community of the Irish Coast Guard.
'Although at times it may appear that the emergency services are large in numbers, the reality is that those involved, whether in a voluntary or professional capacity, make up a community that feels more like a small family.
'A relationship exists between all those who become involved. This creates a common bond and a sense of shared understanding that is often reflected in the camaraderie that exists between members and organisations. It is also perhaps most keenly felt when tragedy strikes and a life is lost during the course of duty,' said the unit.
Dara's sister Niamh was a sports psychologist with the Wexford Hurlers back in 1996.
'My brave sister Capt Dara Fitzpatrick lost her life in #Rescue116 crash. We are devastated. Please pray for recovery of 3 remaining crew,' Niamh posted on Twitter.
Frank Flanagan from Wexford MarineWatch said Dara was a very popular crew member in her many years in Waterford and warmed to everyone she met.
'Some of our volunteers would have had the pleasure of meeting her during previous visits to the helicopter base in Waterford and she was always very facilitating and helpful.
'I would have got to know her better than others through my 2010 campaign to retain 24 hour SAR Helicopter cover in Waterford,' said Frank.
'They selflessly risk their lives on a daily basis to save others and the coast of Ireland is very lucky to have such professionals on standby 24-7. We are still numb at her and her colleagues' untimely passing and our thoughts go out to their families, including all the volunteers of the Irish Coast Guard across Ireland, and the other Emergency services they worked so closely alongside,' he said.
Former election candidate Leonard Kelly, from Clonard, who appeared on the Late Late Show in January with his son Isaac to pay tribute to the Coast Guard helicopter crew which flew the youngster to hospital in a snowstorm following his birth in 2010, said his 'heart is broken for the family and friends of the amazing individuals who made up the crew of Rescue 116.
'These courageous individuals are real life heroes, living among us, but who routinely risk their lives for us.
'When Isaac and I appeared on the The Late Late Show back in January, the representatives of the Coast Guard present could not have done any more to make Isaac feel special. Amazing, warm, kind, brave, and humane, the best of what we can be,' he said.
In a post on social media, the 'Kilmore Quay Fishing Fleet' said the loss of Rescue 116 and its crew 'will hit every fishing community really hard as they are our heroes'.
'One call and they are on the way to protect and save us from the sea.It's really hard to come to terms with this knowing Dara was our angel in the sky for many years taking good care of us! May she rest in peace.. thinking of all families, friends and people out there searching. Take care.'