The Irish Coast Guard has confirmed that two investigations will be carried out into the death of their first ever volunteer to be killed in the line of duty.
The Irish Coast Guard will carry out its own investigation into the tragedy while a separate independent probe will be undertaken by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board.
Caitríona Lucas, a 41-year-old mother of two, died at lunchtime on Monday after the rescue boat on which she was working capsized in rough seas.
The three person crew of Kilkee Coast Guard’s Delta RIB (rigid inflatable boat) had been searching for missing Clare teacher David McMahon at the time.
Caitríona, who was attached to the Doolin unit of the Coast Guard, was on board the boat along with Kilkee unit members James Lucey and Jenny Carway.
One crew had launched at first light to continue the search which began on Friday after Mr McMahon was reported missing.
At around 9am on Monday, that crew returned to the pier in Kilkee and Caitríona and her colleagues, James and Jenny, took up duty and returned to the search area.
After searching for about three hours, the crew was preparing to return to base for a break, when they were suddenly hit by an unexpected swell or rogue wave.
All three were tossed into the sea which at the time was described as ‘rough’.
It is understood more than 100 people were on the cliffs at the west end of the town at the time and many saw the tragedy unfold.
The crew managed to transmit a mayday distress call which indicated they were in difficulty. However, there were no other details.
Watch Officers at the Irish Coast Guard marine rescue sub centre on Valentia Island in Kerry quickly mounted a rescue operation. The Doolin and Ballybunnion units of the Coast Guard along with the Kilrush and Aran Islands RNLI lifeboats were all alerted and mobilised. The Shannon-based search and rescue helicopter, Rescue 115, was scrambled and reached the scene in around 15 minutes. Rescue 117, located at Waterford Airport, was also sent to the assist.
Kilkee Fire and Rescue Service rushed to the scene to find that one of their own colleagues was still trapped at the base of the cliff.
The helicopter confirmed seeing two casualties in the water and quickly recovered Jenny Caraway. She was treated at the scene by ambulance paramedics before being removed to hospital for treatment.
A short time later, the lifeless body of Caitríona was located and, after a challenging effort, was recovered from the sea.
Members of Clare Civil Defence, who were assisting in the original search, administered CPR to Caitríona before she was transferred to the helicopter. She was reported to be unresponsive and was flown to University Hospital Limerick, where she was pronounced dead.
Director of Search and Rescue operations with the Irish Coast Guard, Declan Geoghegan, confirmed that the tragedy would be fully investigated.
“The Coast Guard centre at Valentia picked up a mayday call about 10 minutes past midday from our own boat. They had broadcast the call to say they were in difficulty,” said Mr Geoghan. “Within minutes, we tasked all the emergency services, including the Coast Guard.
“We know the vessel got into difficulty but whether it was a heavy swell or a rogue wave we are unsure but there will be an inquiry. It wouldn’t be right to speculate at this time but obviously they got thrown into the water and unfortunately we lost a colleague during the rescue mission.”
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