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Miscommunication over severity of fisherman's injury responsible for last journey of R116

It was thought the fisherman had lost his entire hand, instead it was just the tip of his thumb which was severed.

Hundreds of mourners gathered at St Patrick's Church in Glencullen, Dublin for the funeral of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick.
Hundreds of mourners gathered at St Patrick's Church in Glencullen, Dublin for the funeral of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick.
Image: sam boal

MISCOMMUNICATION OVER THE nature of an injury sustained by a fisherman was responsible for the Irish Coast Guard helicopter R116 embarking on its ill-fated mission, it has emerged.

The missing aircraft was one of two search-and-rescue helicopters dispatched to carry out an emergency medical evacuation of a Scottish fisherman from a UK-registered trawler 150 miles off the west coast last Monday.

The R116 was tasked with providing communications and back-up support for the Sligo-based R118 on the 300-mile round trip to the fishing vessel in the Atlantic Ocean.

It disappeared just after 12.45am on Tuesday morning as it prepared to land at Blacksod, Mayo to refuel before following the R118 on the medical-evacuation mission.

When the crew of the R118 reached the trawler and assessed the fisherman, they discovered that his injury was confined to the tip of his thumb and did not represent a threat to his life.

Injury

Such was the relatively minor extent of the injury, the R118 decided to keep the fisherman on board for approximately an hour while they joined the search for their missing colleagues upon their return to Blacksod, rather than landing to allow him to be transported to hospital.

In the case of medical emergencies, search-and-rescue aircraft would usually bring the patient directly to hospital. However, the fisherman was left at Blacksod and made the 60-mile journey to Mayo University Hospital in Castlebar by road.

Personnel involved in the medical evacuation said that miscommunication concerning the nature of the man’s injuries was responsible for the Coast Guard helicopters being dispatched last Monday.

The request for medical assistance from the UK-registered trawler was received by the Irish Coast Guard coordination centre in Malin Head at 9.40pm on Monday.

Details of the injury were communicated to the Emergency Department at Cork University Hospital (CUH), which provides a tele-medical assessment service for the Coast Guard.

It is understood that the advice to conduct an emergency medical evacuation was made on the basis that the fisherman’s whole hand or a large part of his hand had been amputated in an accident.

Coast Guard Tragedy. Captain Dara Fitzpatrick Source: RollingNews.ie

It was only when the R118 reached the vessel that it was discovered that the fisherman had severed only the tip of his thumb. A spokesperson for the Irish Coast Guard said that the decision to conduct a medical-evacuation operation was made by the medical team in CUH based on information they were given by personnel on the trawler.

“The medical team in Cork can only go on the information that’s given to them from the ship,” he said.
“Sometimes it can happen that there is confusion. The first language of the person speaking to the medical team is not necessarily English, and sometimes the first language of the medical team in Cork is not English either.”

The spokesperson said that the injured fisherman had received first aid from two paramedics on the R118 and “time was no longer of the essence” when they returned to Blacksod and joined the search for their missing colleagues.

After being brought to Blacksod lighthouse by the Coast Guard helicopter, the fisherman travelled 25 miles by ambulance to Bangor, Co Mayo; where he was met by another ambulance dispatched from Castlebar to bring him the rest of the way to Mayo University Hospital.

He was subsequently transferred to University Hospital Galway (UHG), where plastic surgery was performed on his thumb.

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Darragh McDonagh

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