FLAGS at search and rescue bases throughout Limerick city, county and further afield, are flying at half mast today as the entire emergency response community mourn the fallen heroes of Rescue 116 who lost their lives during a mission last Monday.
Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, Mark Duffy, Ciaran Smith and Paul Ormsby were on board the Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 when it left radar and crashed without warning off the West Coast near Mayo.
While three crew members remain missing, Capt Fitzpatrick lost her fight for life on Tuesday.
With more than 20 years service, Captain Fitzpatrick was a pilot and commander of the rescue helicopter that crashed during an assisted mission near Blacksod Lighthouse.
Capt Fitzpatrick, who was one of two female pilots in the Irish Coastguard, started flying in 1990 and began search and rescue at Shannon in 1993 before serving with Waterford based Rescue 117 which featured on the RTE series of the same name.
The Donnybrook native then transferred back to Dublin in recent years where she continued to serve as a rescue responder of the highest standards. Glowing tributes have been paid to her and her crew of Rescue 116.
Tragedy struck on Monday when Rescue 116 was tasked to provide “top cover” in a mission to recover a fisherman injured on an ship that was part of an international blue whiting fleet working 250km west of the Mayo coast.
A Sligo based rescue helicopter had been tasked to fly to the British registered ship with Rescue 116 providing cover.
The two Sikorsky helicopters were to refuel a Blacksod Lighthouse before flying on again, but sometime later as the Sligo based rescue helicopter landed with the injured fisherman, they reported seeing wreckage in the sea and the alarm was raised.
There had been no satellite alerts, no signals, no Mayday and the last communication from Rescue 116, at 12.45am, was brief indicating that the aircraft was “landing in Blacksod”.
Shannon’s Rescue 115 was scrambled and a full emergency reaction unfolded from all responders.
Searches were carried out and a captain Dara Fitzpatrick was located. She was taken on board, given medical assistance and flown to hospital but tragically she was confirmed dead on arrival.
Her three colleagues remain missing and black days befell the West Coast, the communities and the emergency services as a whole. The grief-stricken families now keep vigil as the operation continues in an effort to bring their loved ones home.
The Celtic Voyager, a Marine Institute vessel is conducting sonar based searches of a two square mile area near Blacksod where it is understood that the helicopter went down.
Naval vessels LE Eithne and the LE Roisin are also on scene as naval divers assess the best areas in which to conduct a dive. Rough conditions off shore are hampering efforts but shoreline searches are underway.
To honour the crew of Rescue 116, flags fly at half mast as outpouring of shock and grief is shared throughout social media over the loss of those heroes.
Limerick City Fire and Rescue posted “Today our Flag flies at half mast for our colleagues in the Irish Coast Guard. We remember the crew of Rescue 116, their families, colleagues and friends.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anam dílis