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'You're just smashed by this train' - Rescue 116 families speak of their loss

Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 disappeared off the north coast of Mayo after providing communications cover for a medical rescue in March of this year.

Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

TWO SISTERS OF crew from the downed Rescue 116 helicopter have spoken of their experiences.

Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 116 disappeared off the north coast of Mayo after providing communications cover for a medical rescue in March of this year.

Onboard were crew members Dara Fitzpatrick, Mark Duffy, Ciarán Smith and Paul Ormsby.

An unprecedented rescue operation was launched and the bodies of Fitzpatrick and Duffy were recovered in the days and weeks following the crash. Despite intensive efforts by dozens of volunteers, the bodies of Smith and Ormsby have yet to be recovered.

Speaking to Marian Finucane today, Niamh Fitzpatrick, sister of Captain Dara Fitzpatrick and Orla Smith – sister of winchman Ciarán Smith, spoke about how they found out about the deaths of their loved ones earlier this year.

“That Tuesday morning my alarm clock had gone of at 6am,” says Orla Smith.

Like so many of us do, I hit the snooze button, but at 6.07am I heard my father outside the door screaming something about the helicopter has gone down and Ciaran, Ciaran, Ciaran.

“I thought the man must be having a heart attack or be sleep walking.”

Orla said that she had made a phone call from her father’s phone and was told that the helicopter had gone down off Mayo.

“We went out to Martina, his wife, and his three girls to be with them for the day.

“The rest of the day is a blur, to be honest.”

After being informed that the body that had been recovered was that of Dara Fitzpatrick, the Smiths made the decision to head to Mayo, where they would end up being “for some time”.

Niamh Fitzpatrick said that she lives just four doors away from where Dara shared a house with their other sister, Eimear.


“It was before 6am and I was about to get up before my phone went. It was Eimear and she said ‘two guys from CHC (the operator of the helicopter) are here in the house and they say the helicopter is gone down.

“I rang my mother straight away and said ‘the helicopter has gone down, we’re coming to get you’.

“I then rang my father who was in Cheltenham at the time.”

Niamh says that after going to Dara’s house and was told:

“The helicopter’s gone down and we don’t know.”

The family spent the day in Dara’s house, with Niamh saying that they suspected that this was not a situation that would end well.

Dangerous job

1 Ciaran Smith_90505426 Ciaran Smith Source: RollingNews.ie

Both spoke about the fears that families of Coast Guard members have. Orla Smith said that she always feared the dangers her brother faced, but always believed he would survive anything that he went through.

We didn’t really talk about his job that much, but we tried to talk about other things. But I’m very, very proud of everything he did.

Niamh Fitzpatrick said that she had originally had fears for her sister, but after 22 years, those fears had been put to the back of her mind.


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

As the search and rescue operation continued, the families moved to Blacksod in Mayo to await news.

Even then, Orla Smith says she believed her brother would be ok.

“I thought if anyone can survive this, it’s Ciaran Smith. I was quite convinced in that for a few hours, at least.

“As the day went on, I realised that he had been in the water a long time.

“(In the car) I was just thinking ‘please don’t let this car ever stop’. So much goes through your head.”

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The Fitzpatrick family were informed that Dara’s body had been found around 12.30pm, an experience she described as being in a car hit by a train.

“Your whole life changes at that moment.

You’re just smashed by this train.

With her father still returning home, Niamh had to make the phonecall to inform him the body was Dara’s.

“He’s in a jeep with three other people and I had to ring him and tell him.

“You think it will be the other way around – that you’ll ring your sister about your father.”

The family were taken to Castlebar Hospital to collect Dara’s body.

After an appeal from Orla, the largest sea search in Irish history was launched, but the bodies of Ciaran and Paul Ormsby were not found.


Both women spoke about the legacies and memories of their loved ones, with Niamh Fitzpatrick saying that it was important to remember the lives of those who died.

“We must find a way to be peaceful and not focus on (the deaths) and focus on the fun things or the memories or the legacies of their children.

“People have been amazing. The response of people has been amazing.

“All four families would thank everybody.”

A memorial concert for the crew will be held in Cootehill on Friday, 25 August and a memorial 5km will be held in memory of Dara Fitzpatrick on the runway of Waterford Airport on September 16.

Read: ‘A local man. A hero. A friend’ -Locals plan lasting memorial for missing Coast Guard crewman

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