They’re a tight-knit bunch that, at times, respond to harrowing calls: They’ve known situations where there have been fatalities, and some of those people they knew personally.
So said Kilkee, Co Clare-based Irish Coast Guard volunteer Jenny Carway in an interview with The Clare Champion two years ago. Her words are especially poignant today as she and her coastguard colleagues mourn the devastating loss of one of their own.
In an awful reversal of roles, the people who regularly put their own lives in peril to save others found themselves the focus of a dramatic air and sea search that ended in tragedy for Caitríona Lucas, mother-of-two in her early 40s, from Ballyvaughan.
Together with Jenny Carway, 51, and James Lucey, 49, Ms Lucas had set out yesterday morning as part of a search for a man missing since last Friday. However, their Delta RIB flipped over as they searched near the cliffs at Kilkee around lunchtime yesterday.
The alarm was raised at around 1pm as they were thrown into the sea on the western side of Kilkee Bay. A major rescue operation was mounted involving the Doolin unit of the Irish Coast Guard along with Kilrush and Aran Islands RNLI lifeboats.
The crew of the Shannon- based search and rescue helicopter Rescue 115 recovered Ms Carway and Ms Lucas from the water. However, efforts to reach Mr Lucey proved very difficult.
Ms Carway, the coast guard’s longest-serving volunteer, originally from Somalia, was treated by ambulance paramedics in Kilkee before being transported to University Hospital Limerick for further assessment.
However, Ms Lucas was airlifted to UHL in an unresponsive state, and was later pronounced dead.
It is understood she was attached to the Doolin unit of the coast guard, and her partner Bernard is also a member of the service.
The official Irish Coast Guard Facebook page changed its profile photo to the service logo with a black band through it while the page received many expressions of sympathy.
Mr Lucey, the boat’s coxswain, was trapped on a ledge in a sea cave and conditions were too dangerous to mount a water-based recovery.
Members of Doolin Coast Guard abseiled down to Mr Lucey and remained with him. He was winched onto the helicopter at around 5.30pm and flown to hospital. He was said to have been uninjured but exhausted and badly shaken.
Irish Coast Guard spokesman Declan Geoghegan confirmed there would be an inquiry into the tragedy.
“We don’t know if it was a heavy swell or a rogue wave or what happened but we got a mayday call at around midday when a coastguard boat got into difficulty. We mobilised rescue boats and the helicopter to the scene. They obviously got thrown into the water and unfortunately we lost a colleague.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the death of Ms Lucas “casts a dark shadow over people all over the island”.
Transport Minister Shane Ross described her as “a member of that extraordinary group of men and women who dedicate their skills, time and passion so that others may be safe on our coastlines”.
The community in Kilkee has been left stunned by the tragedy.
“We always hear how the coastguard risk their lives for others but you never think and always hope that something like this doesn’t happen. This is shocking altogether,” an onlooker said.
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