“We got paged to go and the text came through that there was an upturned boat in Kilkee. So I went on the boat to assist and when we got to the pier in Kilkee, I was called ashore by gardaí and I was told there had been an accident and that Caitríona was involved,” Bernard said.
“I wasn’t aware that it was going to be that extreme,” he told Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ radio yesterday.
Mother-of-two Caitríona Lucas, 41, was the first volunteer coastguard to die in the line of duty when the rescue boat in which she was travelling capsised on September 12.
She had been the coxswain in the rigid inflatable which set out that morning to search for missing teacher David McMahon off the coast of nearby Kilkee.
Bernard outlined how he travelled with Caitríona by helicopter to the hospital after she had been plucked from rough waters.
Since her death, he has taken part in a number of rescue missions including transferring a patient to a helicopter as part of a MediVac (medical evacuation).
“That was tough, I really had to push myself to take the casualty onto the stretcher because the last person I would have brought into the helicopter was Caitríona. That was difficult, that was quite traumatic. But once it’s done, I don’t have to do it again. So it’s done and it’s fine,” he said.
Nonetheless his wife’s death has left his family in bits.
“We’re broken, absolutely in bits, but her memory and the support of our friends, neighbours and community will get us through,” he said.
The couple’s daughter, Emma, has returned to school and by some “strange twist of fate” the assigned engineering project as part of her upcoming Leaving Certifcate was on the coastguard helicopter.
Bernard said she was “quite proud” to work on the project. His son Ben, in his 20s, has returned to work in Shannon.
Describing his wife as his “best friend” since they met in their teens, Bernard spoke of Caitríona’s love for the outdoors and for animals.
She was a member of the Search and Rescue Dog Association and had devoted three-and-a-half years to training a dog for use in search and rescue.
Caitríona was a talented artist and one of her paintings, displayed at her funeral, of the coastguard boat in Doolin, has been submitted to An Post for consideration as a stamp following an online petition.
Yesterday, a spokesperson for An Post said they were delighted the idea was put forward to them but that it would be some time before a decision was made.
“We love the idea but there are a number of processes involved here. We work about two years ahead, so our programme for 2017 is already agreed. But it may be considered as part of a broader look at the coastguard and issues of water safety. We try to get our stamps to work really hard in terms of the story they can tell,” the spokesperson said.