Tributes paid to four helicopter heroes on the 20th anniversary of their deaths

Tributes paid to four helicopter heroes on the 20th anniversary of their deaths
Sculpture on Tramore prom in memory of the four men who died. Pictures: Tramore Coast Guard Volunteer Unit Facebook

The Irish Coast Guard will be leading tributes to four helicopter heroes on the 20th anniversary of their deaths.

Captain Mick Baker, 28, from Wexford, Corporal Niall Byrne, 24 and Captain Dave O’Flaherty, 30, from Dublin and Sergeant Paddy Mooney, 34, from Meath were killed in July 1999, when their Dauphin helicopter collided with a sand dune in dense fog in Tramore, Co Waterford.

This was the first crash of an Air Corps helicopter in active service in the history of the State.

The crew were returning from the first late night search mission from the Waterford base after it was increased to 24-hour operations the day before.

A vessel had become lost in bad weather off Dungarvan, Co Waterford, and the Irish Coast Guard launched the Helvick Inshore Lifeboat and tasked Rescue 111.

Tributes paid to four helicopter heroes on the 20th anniversary of their deaths

After successfully locating the vessel and guiding it back to harbour the crew turned for home.

However, after two unsuccessful Instrument Landing System (ILS) approaches in the poor weather, the crew opted for an approach from the coast, and this was the last time they were seen alive.

The wreckage of the aircraft was located on Tramore beach, and there were no survivors, the Irish Coast Guard Facebook page says in a post.

Families and friends gather every year at the crash site in the sand dunes in Tramore at 1pm to remember the four men and to celebrate life.

Saluting the men’s bravery, the Irish Coastguard said:

Captain Dave O’Flaherty, Captain Michael Baker, Sergeant Paddy Mooney and Corporal Niall Byrne were lost doing their duty protecting the lives of others. We will never forget. Go Mairidis Beo.

The Air Corps, had undertaken to commence the 24-hour service with a Dauphin on July 1, 1999 and the crew been deployed to Waterford Regional Airport only that morning.

It had turned out to be a busy day for the crew, with an official launch attended by a number of VIPs.

The aircraft also performed an RTÉ publicity flight, as well as a training exercise over the sea, to the Southeast of Tramore.

However, at around 12.40am all men perished.

Hundreds of people have taken to the Irish Coast Guard Facebook saying, “RIP to these brave crew and their families. They will always be in our prayers,” another added: “RIP to those four brave souls.”

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