Elisha Gault's mother slams potential loss of Waterford helicopter rescue base

Elisha Gault died by suicide in 2018. Her body was recovered with the help of a Rescue 117 crew, whose services may be removed from Co Waterford under new proposals
Elisha Gault's mother slams potential loss of Waterford helicopter rescue base

Elisha, 14, died by suicide on St Patrick’s Day, 2018, in Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary. Her body was recovered eight days later.

A mother whose teenage daughter died by suicide has said that without the services of the Coast Guard’s Air and Sea Rescue helicopter 117, the family may never have found her remains.

Gráinne Gault has slammed potential moves by Transport Minister Eamon Ryan to axe the Rescue 117 base from the South-East.

The tender process for the new Coast Guard contract includes a "minimum" of three bases, prompting fears the Waterford base may not be included going forward. The other bases are in Shannon, Sligo and Dublin.

Ms Gault’s daughter Elisha, 14, died by suicide on St Patrick’s Day, 2018, in Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary. Her body was recovered eight days later from the River Suir on March 25 due in large part to the work of Rescue 117.

The body of the missing teenager was found about 8km from where she was last seen on a bridge in the town.

Speaking from her home in Carrick-on-Suir, Ms Gault said: “As a family, we will be forever grateful for the help and support we received from all of the services and the people who helped us.

“The South-East cannot do without the rescue 117 service. They help both with rescue but also help recover those who have lost their lives in our rivers. During the agonising eight-day disappearance of my then 14-year-old daughter, Elisha, Rescue 117 made it their business to help us locate her, along with many other services such as the Tipperary Land Search and Rescue. They finally and thankfully located and recovered her body.

 Members of Carrick-on Suir River Rescue and the Coast Guard search and rescue helicopter searching the River Suir for Elisha Gault in 2018. Picture: Dan Linehan
Members of Carrick-on Suir River Rescue and the Coast Guard search and rescue helicopter searching the River Suir for Elisha Gault in 2018. Picture: Dan Linehan

“Without the service of 117, we may not have had the same fortunate outcome and we may never have recovered Elisha’s remains. I know they have assisted in saving many lives of those who have entered the River Suir and without their service, this would more than likely result in an increased number of deaths."

Ms Gault added that the South-East region had lost too many services, “and I would be heartbroken to see the service of these amazing men and women removed from us”. 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar confirmed in the Dáil that he anticipates that the same four air and sea rescue bases will be retained across the country, according to Fianna Fáil TD Mary Butler. However, Transport Minister Eamon Ryan has refused to give a firm commitment.

All Oireachtas members in the region say it is imperative the South-East maintains a helicopter base. Concern is mounting across the region over the future of the Sikorsky Rescue 117 helicopter based at Waterford Regional Airport.

The Department of Transport has tendered for a new air sea rescue service to cover three helicopter bases, instead of the four Ireland currently has.

The tender for the service is to be deliberated upon by Government before the end of the month.

Local politicians across the region, which has a population of 700,000, are voicing the concerns of many that the service will be axed.

Mr Ryan said he understands the issue is "a life or death" situation for the South-East, and he promised the Government would examine the case for a helicopter base in the region in a "proper, organised" way.

A decision on whether the base is to be retained in Waterford is due in March.

The Coast Guard helicopter is based in Waterford airport following the tragic deaths of four Air Corps crew members, who died 20 years ago when their helicopter crashed at Tramore beach, Co Waterford, while on a mission from the airport.

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