Dara Fitzpatrick: 'We couldn't bear to leave her' says sister

Captain Dara Fitzpatrick Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption Coastguard helicopter pilot Captain Dara Fitzpatrick died after the crash

The family of helicopter pilot Captain Dara Fitzpatrick killed in a crash off the coast of Ireland on Tuesday, spent the night by her side in a Castlebar mortuary.

"We couldn't bear to leave her alone," her sister, Niamh Fitzpatrick, told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.

Dara, 45, died in hospital after she was rescued from the sea off the coast of Mayo on Tuesday.

A major air and sea rescue for her three missing colleagues continues.

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Media captionDara Fitzpatrick's family say they, at least, have a body to mourn

Niamh, a psychologist, paid tribute to the woman she called: "my brave sister".

Image copyright Niamh Fitzpatrick/Twitter

"Dara is all about family, I can't say 'was' yet," she said. "As a family, we are heartbroken but we have no regrets as far as Dara is concerned.

"She lived her life to the full, she loved her life."

Niamh said that Dara had wanted to be a mother and had adopted Fionn, who is three years old.

"She absolutely adores him. They say it takes a village to raise a child and he has a village around him now who will raise him on her behalf."

Image copyright RTÉ
Image caption It is expected that the search will concentrate on an area close to Blackrock lighthouse

Describing her sister's passion for flying, she said that somebody gave Dara a half hour lesson on a helicopter and she graduated from there.

"She loved the helicopter. We had grown up on a farm, riding horses, she had soft hands and light hands.

"I remember the instructor saying to her that she didn't go after the controls the way a lot of other people did. She was gentle. She showed promise, she got sponsored.

"She was the first female commercial pilot in the country and went on to be the first female captain in the country."

Image copyright Facebook post
Image caption A message on Facebook from friends at Dara's old school, Muckross Park College, Dublin

Being a woman did not hold her back, she said.

"It never occurred to Dara that she couldn't do this because she was female," she said.

"She just loved it and she worked hard at it and she was excellent at it."

Image copyright PA
Image caption The scene of the rescue operation at Blacksod

"She loved it as she loved the hard, awful harrowing parts of the job," she said.

"She loved it because she was about helping people, it sounds trite, but it was true."

She said her sister understood the dangers of her rescue work but was "selfless and caring" in the face of them.

"She would say: 'Of course there are risks, but we are trained, we are ready, we need to save people, we have to take those risks'."

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Tribute for "a true hero'

Niamh Fitzpatrick told RTÉ that the search and rescue teams were "amazing".

"They are not just random strangers, they have flown with her, they love her, they are her friends as well as her colleagues."

She said her thoughts were with the families and friends of the other three crew members, Chief Pilot Mark Duffy and winchmen Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith.

Ms Fitzpatrick was the most senior pilot with CHC which runs the contract to provide search and rescue services in the Republic of Ireland.

Image caption Dara Fitzpatrick is pictured meeting Queen Elizabeth II in May 2014

Among the many tributes were those from her old school, Dominican College Muckross Park, Dublin, where a special assembly will be held on Thursday.

School principal Anne Marie Mee said staff and pupils heard the news of her death with "shock and deep regret".

"We are deeply grateful for their selfless service in the saving of the lives of so many. We will remember Dara and them all in prayer at morning assembly tomorrow (Thursday)," she said.

On the school's past pupils' page on Facebook, one woman who was in her year wrote that she was "a true role model".

"The class of '89 are devastated," she said.

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