Pilot Dara Fitzpatrick has been named as the first victim of an Irish Coast Guard helicopter which vanished before crashing into the sea. The experienced pilot was confirmed dead by the Coast Guard after her body was recovered from the water on Tuesday morning. A desperate search for her three colleagues continues, but the rescue team are beginning to lose hope of finding them.
The helicopter Dara was flying in had been sent to rescue an injured man who needed urgent medical attention on board a UK-registered fishing vessel around 150 miles west of Eagle Island.when it crashed. Two helicopters. R116 and R118, were sent at about 9.40 p.m., with R116 providing safety and communication support while R118 picked up the man. The Dublin-based R116 search and rescue helicopter disappeared off the west coast of Ireland overnight in what was reported as wet and misty weather with poor visibility.
Final communication from the helicopter was at 12.45am when the crew said they would be landing "shortly" at Blacksod to refuel on the way back to Dublin. Afterwards, contact was lost and the helicopter never arrived. The crew did not report any problems. Soon after the disappearance, a mayday signal was sent out and a major sea search was launched about six miles west of Blacksod, Co Mayo, in an attempt to locate the missing aircraft. The debris was found in that area, around one and half miles south-east of Blacksod Lighthouse.
Spokesman Gerard O'Flynn said: "Dara is the most senior pilot with CHC – with the company close to 20 years. Outside of her work as a pilot, she did an enormous amount of work in water safety and was always available to do school visits and highlight basic water safety.
“For all of us involved in the Coast Guard, and particularly her family, it does come as a big shock and we want to extend our sincere sympathies to her sympathy to all her family and indeed to her flying colleagues at CHC.”
Mr Clonan told RTE: "It’s a dark day for the emergency services in Ireland, we recovered one person this morning in the search and we don’t hold out too much hope for that person. Also as the day moves on hopes are fading that we will find the rest of the crew."
It is still unclear what happened to the helicopter. Mr Clonan said the R116 was a new aircraft which underwent regular maintenance checks and was in good condition and suitable to carry out the medical evacuation in spite of the poor weather.