Coast Guard Tragedy: Dara Fitzpatrick - An experienced pilot and safety campaigner

The late Captain Dara Fitzpatrick had a high- profile role as a full-time member Coast Guard.

A pilot with some 25 years’ experience, she had participated in television programmes and campaigns about her helicopter crew’s work.

The 45-year-old mother of one had also spoken of the significant risks involved in the work of Coast Guard members.

“My responsibility as captain is to get them all back in one piece, everything is based on trust,” she said in an interview recorded for the Irish Bishops’ Conference.

“The most vulnerable person in the whole crew would be the winchman because, if you think about it, he’s dangling down up to 300ft below the aircraft, trusting me that I’m on the ball, not tired, and flying well to keep him safe.

“You have to be on the ball when you walk in here because if you’re not, you can actually endanger somebody.”

She went on to elaborate on the variable conditions that make each search and rescue mission a unique operation.

“You have to, in about two or three minutes, make that decision of ‘can we go there?’, ‘can we get back?’ and ‘what fuel do I need?’,” she said.

“We can go and pick everybody up and save loads of people but there’s no point in us doing that if we can’t get back.

“You just have to be able to think on your feet and also think of the consequences of making a decision.

“You have to be able to get back to land.”

At the time of the interview in 2007, Capt Fitzpatrick said she had 15 years’ experience as a pilot, but that her job still had the potential to give her a ‘kick in the ass’.

“You’ll go along and you’ll do loads of really good jobs and then, one time, you’ll get a kick in the ass and it kind of wakes you up, to say ‘you can’t relax’,” she said.

“The thing that I find the hardest is everybody thinks it isn’t going to happen to them and, again, you’re picking somebody up out of the water.”

Capt Dara Fitzpatrick with then transport minister Leo Varadkar in Weston Airport, Dublin, in February 2014. Picture Colin Keegan
Capt Dara Fitzpatrick with then transport minister Leo Varadkar in Weston Airport, Dublin, in February 2014. Picture Colin Keegan

Capt Fitzpatrick is survived by her three-year-old son, her parents, three sisters, and one brother.

Her sister, Niamh Fitzpatrick, a psychologist and agony aunt on Today FM, yesterday tweeted a tribute.

“My brave sister Capt Dara Fitzpatrick lost her life in #Rescue116 crash. We are devastated. Please pray for recovery of 3 remaining crew,” said Ms Fitzpatrick.

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