Past pupil in flying visit

A HIGH-FLYING past pupil dropped in to visit his old school yesterday — in his Coast Guard helicopter.

And winchman Neville Murphy brought several emergency services colleagues with him.

There was huge excitement in St Patrick’s Boys National School in Skibbereen in West Cork as the mighty Waterford-based Coast Guard Helicopter EI-SAR, a Sikorsky S61N which has the call-sign Rescue 117, landed in a field near the school just before 2pm.

Mr Murphy, and his crew mates, Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, co-pilot Lee Bennett and winch operator Colm Blackburn, who featured in last year’s hit RTÉ show Rescue 117 were joined by two local units of the Coast Guard — from Glandore and Toe Head — along with members of the fire service and HSE ambulance crews.

All 180 pupils and staff met the crew and emergency service workers. They boarded the helicopter. Some even got a chance to don the crews’ helmets and sit in the cockpit, and they sang Happy Birthday to Mr Bennett, who turned 39.

“It was just fantastic. We got a great reception. There was a huge turnout, and it was great see all the teachers who taught me,” Mr Murphy said.

But there was a serious side to the visit too, the 37-year-old married father of a two-year-old said.

“The whole idea of the visit was to promote the use of life-jackets on the water. We spoke to each class just to reinforce the importance of sea safety,” he said.

St Patrick’s principal Fachtna Hamilton taught Mr Murphy while he attended the school.

“He was always full of adventure and a bit of devilment — in a nice way,” Mr Hamilton said. He praised his former pupil for organising and co-ordinating the visit which, the principal said, will be remembered by all for years.

“He obviously has a great fondness for the school and happy memories of his time here, no doubt,” Mr Hamilton said.

“He was delighted to show his own professionalism and share his own adventures with us.”

Last year, Rescue 117’s crew was awarded a Best of Irish Award for rescuing a stricken pilot when his light aircraft crashed into the Irish Sea.

In 2006, Mr Murphy braved Force 11 winds and 30-foot waves to winch a severely injured man who lost his leg in a shipboard accident that killed two of his shipmates off the rolling deck of the 700-foot Panamanian-registered tanker Princess Eva 130 miles off the west coast of Ireland.

He was also awarded the Marine Bronze Medal for Meritorious Service for rescuing a German woman who was injured in a cliff fall on September 19, 2002, on Hungry Hill in the Caha Mountains.

He suffered a leg fracture while being winched down to the casualty.

Despite his injury, he still managed to get her into a stretcher and back to the helicopter.

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