“They say it takes a village to raise a child and he has a village around him now who will raise him on her behalf.”

The late Captain Dara Fitzpatrick leaves behind her three-year old son Fionn, her parents, three sisters, and a brother.

Her sister Niamh has spoken of her family’s heartbreak after losing Capt Fitzpatrick but says the family has no regrets because she lived her life to the very fullest.

“As a family, we’re heartbroken but we’ve no regrets where Dara is concerned,” Niamh said.

“She lived her life to the full and she loved what she did. She wanted to be a mother, she adopted Fionn. She absolutely adores him. They say it takes a village to raise a child and he has a village around him now who will raise him on her behalf.”

The family spent the previous night at the mortuary in Castlebar because they couldn’t bear to leave Capt Fitzpatrick on her own, Niamh said.

Capt Dara Fitzpartick: Leaves behind her son Fionn, aged 3.
Capt Dara Fitzpartick: Leaves behind her son Fionn, aged 3.

Her love of family also influenced them to stay, she added. During the interview, Niamh kept referring to her sister in the present tense.

“I can’t say ‘was’ yet. I know she’s not with us but she ... it’s still Dara ‘is’. She is all about family.”

Ms Fitzpatrick recalled a recent talk her sister gave to a group of scouts about her role as a captain.

“Dara loved talking to them, you know listening to the children and asking the questions and telling them everything,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“She loved that as well as she loved the hard, awful, harrowing parts of the job, when you’re recovering, doing what her colleagues are doing now, which is recovering bodies but she loved it because she was about helping people.

“That sounds trite but it actually was true. That’s what she was about,” she added.

The family had often spoken to the crew about the risks involved with the job, Niamh said.

“What they always said to us is — ‘we’re trained’. Even the week before last Dara did what’s called the dunker. They take them to a place, I think it’s in Cork, they put them into a huge helicopter-like machines, they dunk the machine into a huge tank, turn the machine upside down and turn the lights off and it’s their job to get them out, get themselves out.”

“And so when something happens, their training kicks in. They don’t panic the way the rest of us would, they go straight into training.

“And anytime we’ve ever talked to her about risks she would say ‘Of course there are risks but we’re prepared, we’re ready and we need to save people so we have to take that risk’. ”

A trailblazer, Capt Fitzpatrick was not only the first female commercial pilot in the country, she was also the first female captain.

Rescue 116 tragedy: ‘Fionn has a village to raise him’

She had originally wanted to sign up for training with Aer Lingus, Niamh said, but the airline was not taking on pilots at the time.

“Somebody gave her a half hour lesson on a helicopter and because years ago we’d been in a small little helicopter with a thing called the eye in the sky, looking at traffic over Dublin, she loved the helicopter.”

“And because we had grown up on a farm riding horses, she had soft hands and light hands. I remember the instructor saying to her that she didn’t go after the controls the way a lot of other people did, she was gentle. And she showed promise, she got sponsored. She was the first female commercial pilot in the country and then went on to be the first female captain in the country.”

“It never occurred to Dara that she couldn’t do this because she was female. That didn’t come into it at all. I’d say it wasn’t easy for her crew to work in a male environment with just one female and it wasn’t easy for her to be the only female in a male environment,” Niamh said.

“But in terms of doing the job, there was never any question of her gender having anything to do with being able to do it or not. She just loved it and she worked hard at it and she was excellent at it.”

Ms Fitzpatrick thanked the search and rescue community for their support.

“We stayed with Dara all night and they stayed with us. They’re not just random strangers, they have flown with her, they love her and they’re her friends as well as her colleagues and they could not be nicer to us. That support has been incredible.”

“It will take us weeks and months to get through all the messages, all the cards, all the texts all the emails but we will do each and every one because the way she has touched people and the stories that are coming back to us, they do help. They really do help.”

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