Mayo helicopter crash: Irish lifeboat station flags at half-mast for rescue pilot

Capt Dara Fitzpatrick Image copyright CHC/PA
Image caption Capt Dara Fitzpatrick was "dedicated to her job and extremely professional", Mark Johnston said

Flags are flying at half-mast at lifeboat stations around the Irish coastline as crews mark the death of a coastguard helicopter pilot.

Capt Dara Fitzpatrick died in hospital after her helicopter crashed during a rescue mission on Tuesday morning.

Three of her colleagues who were also on the Dublin-based Rescue 116 aircraft are still missing at sea.

A lifeboat volunteer in Northern Ireland said the "whole rescue community has been absolutely shocked".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Capt Fitzpatrick met the Queen on a royal visit to Bangor in 2009

Mark Johnston, of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) in Bangor, County Down, knew Capt Fitzpatrick through their rescue work, and they met the Queen together.

"I had the privilege of meeting Dara for the first time in 2009 when she visited Bangor - it was a royal visit at the time and she was representing the Irish Coast Guard," he said.

"She had also landed her helicopter here a number of times to visit the station.

"I found Dara very dedicated to her job and extremely professional."

'One big team'

The Irish navy, the RNLI, police divers and fishing boats are searching the coast off Mayo for the three missing crew members and the helicopter's flight recorder.

Capt Fitzpatrick had been found in a critical condition by an RNLI crew hours after the crash.

Mr Johnston said that although the RNLI is not part of the coastguard, the two services "work and train very close together".

"We have a very symbiotic relationship - Her Majesty's Coastguard in the north [of Ireland], the Irish Coast Guard in the south and the RNLI is just one big team when it comes to rescuing people at sea," he added.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Searches are continuing off the Irish coastline for the missing rescue helicopter crew

"We really feel this has affected everybody, so the whole of the RNLI in Ireland is flying flags at half-mast."

That, he said, was a symbol of "unity and togetherness".

"Any time a crew goes out on a rescue mission they really have no idea what they're going to face," he added.

"That's what crews do, and they they have to be trained and prepared for anything.

"It's just shocking that they've been putting their lives at risk to save the crewman on a fishing boat."

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