Mother praises rescue crew who tried to save daughter

The mother of 14-year-old Aoife Winterlich, who died in a scouting accident at Hook Head, paid tribute to rescue services “who did everything possible” to save her, writes Louise Roseingrave.

In a statement at the end of an inquest into her daughter’s death, Anne Winterlich said the loss has left a huge void for the family.

“Our beautiful Aoife, so adorable and funny in nature,” she said. “She had a kind disposition, so creative, a wonderful artist. We are left with such a huge void in our lives, we will love and miss her forever.”

Mrs Winterlich thanked Phillip Byrne, a friend and fellow scout who tried to rescue Aoife after she was swept out to sea.

“Myself and my family wish to sincerely thank the Air Accident crew for doing everything possible to save Aoife and Phillip,” she said. “It is because of these men and Phillip that we were given precious time to say goodbye to our beautiful daughter and sister. We will be forever grateful to Phillip for his bravery and for the love and friendship he showed to Aoife. To the other children present that day, we would like to thank you too.”

Aoife Winterlich
Aoife Winterlich

The group of 14 scouts, aged 14-17, had arrived at Hook Head lighthouse, taken a tour and had been given 20 minutes’ free time to eat their lunch when the tragedy unfolded.

The Waterford Coastguard helicopter arrived at Hook Head at 2.15pm on December 6, 2014. The crew winched an unconscious Aoife up from the sea but she slipped from her harness and fell 12m into the sea below. She was winched back up and taken to Waterford General and later to Crumlin Children’s Hospital, where she was pronounced dead five days later on December 11.

At Dublin Coroner’s Court Coroner Myra Cullinane returned a verdict of death by misadventure. The coroner made a recommendation for a general review of supervision arrangements for children, particularly in relation to potentially hazardous activities. The coroner also recommended that signs at Hook Head lighthouse alert the public to dangers of the area.

Dr Cullinane commended the family’s “very generous” decision to donate Aoife’s organs as “a wonderful gift for a significant number of families”. She noted the loss of Aoife’s father, Martin, in the weeks after Aoife’s death.

“This has been a very difficult inquest to hear,” she said. “I know Aoife was a cherished daughter and the family has suffered the loss of Aoife’s father since. I hope this process can assist you in coming to terms with your loss.”

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