A Sea King helicopter, one of the world’s most iconic search and rescue aircraft, is to be named after Capt Dara Fitzpatrick who was among four crew killed in the Rescue 116 tragedy.
Her family said they were touched by the gesture from HeliOperations — a leading search and rescue (SAR) helicopter training and crew supply firm based in Britain — to name the ex-Royal Navy aircraft, which is getting a new lease of life as a SAR training aircraft.
Her sister, Niamh Fitzpatrick, said Dara would have been very proud to be associated with such a remarkable aircraft.
“From the first day she flew a helicopter, Dara utterly loved it. This is a lovely gesture in tribute to her,” she said.
“It’s a mark too of the respect and affection in which she was held in the SAR community.
“Anyone who ever heard Dara talk about her role would hear the joy in her words. She spoke with such love about her job and about the helicopters she flew. She was just so proud, and to be associated with a Sea King — she’d get such a kick out of that. We as a family have drawn huge comfort from this.”
The Sea King Mk5 aircraft, ZA166, is one of two former Royal Navy SAR helicopters, formerly of the 771 Naval Air Squadron, which were based in Cornwall until their retirement in April 2016.
However, they are now re-entering service to train the German Navy in SAR operations.
They will be retained as UK military aircraft but will be leased to HeliOperations, which owns a massive training base in Portland, Dorset.
HeliOperations CEO Capt Steve Gladston, who knew and flew with Capt Fitzpatrick, said everyone supported his suggestion to name ZA166 after Dara.
“She was a beautiful woman, a fabulous human being, and a brilliant pilot and we thought maybe this was the right thing to do, and everyone endorsed the idea, and her family was hugely supportive,” he said.
Dara’s name will appear in Gaelic script below the pilot’s door window, with the words, Queen of the Skies, written in Irish below.
She died when the Rescue 116 aircraft she was flying crashed into the sea off Mayo in the early hours of March 14. Her body was recovered from the water a short time later.
The body of her co-pilot Mark Duffy, was recovered from the sunken wreckage just over a week later. Despite extensive searches, the bodies of winchmen Ciarán Smith and Paul Ormsby have not been found.
Capt Gladston said he would also like to see the establishment of a training scholarship in Capt Fitzpatrick’s memory to encourage more women into aviation.
He hopes to work with her family, with the Irish Aviation Authority and major aviation companies in Ireland to get the annual scholarship idea off the ground.
Dara's sister Niamh said: “Dara often gave of her time to help people coming up behind her wanting to get into aviation and I suppose that being a woman she attracted many requests from females.
“She would be just thrilled with this scholarship - to think that in her name another pilot will benefit, that would mean so much to Dara and therefore to us.”
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