Helicopter crew member pulled from Atlantic has died - The Irish News
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Helicopter crew member pulled from Atlantic has died

Brian Hutton, Press Association

A woman crew member from the Irish Coast Guard helicopter missing off the west of Ireland, who was pulled from the Atlantic but died, has been named as Captain Dara Fitzpatrick.

She was 45 and had been with the search and rescue service for more than 20 years.

Mark Abbey, regional director for CHC, the company which operates the helicopters for the Coast Guard, said: "It is with deepest regret that we can confirm that Captain Dara Fitzpatrick passed away following today's accident off the coast of County Mayo in the early hours of this morning.

"We are devastated by this morning's tragic accident. Our thoughts are with Dara's family and friends, as well as those of the three crew who are still missing.

"The extensive search and rescue mission is ongoing."

Hopes are fading for the survival of the other three crew members, who have yet to be found, acting head of Coast Guard Eugene Clonan said.

An intense search is continuing around six miles (10km) west of Blacksod, Co Mayo, where the Dublin-based Sikorsky S92 disappeared after providing cover for another helicopter involved in an early-morning rescue operation.

The aircraft lost contact at around 12.45am on Tuesday just before it was about to land to refuel, giving no indication of anything wrong.

Capt Fitzpatrick was one of two female Coast Guard pilots who made Irish aviation history three years ago by flying the first all-woman mission for the service.

The pair flew a cardiac patient from west Co Cork to Cork University Hospital before transferring a critically-ill five-year-old child from the hospital to Temple Street Children's Hospital in Dublin.

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Debris has been discovered on the surface of the water around one and half miles (2.4km) south-east of Blacksod Lighthouse, which is around six miles (10km) off the coast.

Eugene Clonan, acting director of the Irish Coast Guard said contact was last heard from the missing helicopter at around 12.45am.

It had flown directly to the scene from Dublin, travelled around 10 miles (16km) out to sea, then turned back towards land to refuel.

There was no indication that anything was wrong moments before it vanished, with the crew's final transmission: "Shortly landing at Blacksod."

Visibility was described as not good at the time.

When the helicopter failed to arrive, a Mayday signal went out and Coast Guard helicopters from Sligo and Shannon along with the Air Corps maritime patrol aircraft Casa were tasked to the scene.

They were joined by lifeboats from Ballyglass and Achill, and five local fishing vessels.

A Coast Guard spokesman said the missing helicopter had been providing cover in the evacuation of a crewman who needed urgent medical attention, from a UK-registered fishing vessel approximately 150 miles (240km) west of Eagle Island in Co 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," he said.

The search operation is being co-ordinated by the Coast Guard Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Malin Head.

Dublin's Transport Minister, Shane Ross, expressed his "deep concern" over the helicopter's disappearance.

He said: "As the search for the Dublin-based helicopter R116 is currently under way 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."

Mr Ross appealed for space to be given to those involved in the search operation to complete their work.

"Once again, I send my utmost support to all those affected," he added.

The Naval Service's LE Roisin ship has arrived at the scene to help in the rescue effort.

Mr Clonan said the missing Sikorsky S92 is one of best helicopters that can be used in search and rescue operations and had a "very good safety record".

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