Kilkee rescue boat could have reached accident scene in 10 minutes, Caitríona Lucas inquest told

Inquest into 2016 death of Irish Coast Guard volunteer heard Doolin volunteer was conscious in water for almost 17 minutes at scene of Kilkee search and rescue

The inquest into the death of Irish Coast Guard volunteer Caitríona Lucas has heard it would have taken a second Coast Guard rescue boat just 10 minutes to arrive at the accident site.

The 41-year-old mother of two died after her 17-metre rigid inflatable boat (RIB) capsized during a search and rescue operation near Kilkee, Co Clare on September 12th, 2016.

The third day of the inquest, sitting at Kilmallock Courthouse in Co Limerick, heard testimony from Orla Hassett, senior volunteer officer with Kilkee Coast Guard, who said the Kilkee D-Class rescue boat could have reached the scene 10 minutes after being launched.

The inquest heard on Tuesday that Ms Lucas, a librarian and volunteer with the Doolin Coast Guard unit, was conscious in the water for almost 17 minutes after her boat was hit by a huge wave and capsized during a search for a local man who went missing off Kilkee.


A paramedic with the National Ambulance Service and previously a secondary schoolteacher, Ms Hassett was deputy officer in charge in Kilkee on the day.

Michael Kingston, solicitor for the Lucas family, put it to her “there was some confusion” as to who was in charge of the unit on the day.

Ms Hassett said it had been agreed she would take over as acting officer in charge at a meeting the previous Friday, but the formal handover had not taken place and Martony Vaughan was still the officer in charge at the time of the incident.

She told the inquest there were “interpersonal issues” at the Kilkee Coast Guard station at the time of the incident and that volunteer numbers had “dwindled”.

Asked how Ms Lucas had ended up in Kilkee, Ms Hassett said initially when the Kilkee unit amalgamated with the Irish Coast Guard in 2010 it had 30 members, but this had dwindled to 12 by 2013.

The previous week the Kilkee unit had lost experienced members and it was bordering on not being able to operate as an effective unit – “hence the need for assistance from flank units”, she said.

Ms Hassett took a mayday call from volunteer Jenny Caraway, the second coxswain and one of two other crew with Ms Lucas, after the boat had overturned.

“I knew by the sound of her voice, the urgency and panic,” she said.

Martony Vaughan was standing outside the station with Lorraine Lynch, and Ms Hassett ran out and said the boat was after capsizing and they had to have a D-Class boat launched.

She went back in for equipment, and when she came back out the other two had left the station in the Coast Guard jeep.

She went out instead in a civilian leisure boat which had to be used for the search.

Asked by Mr Kingston what difference it would have made had she been in their own Kilkee D-Class boat, she replied: “A big difference.”

“Had I been with Lorraine and Tony, I have no doubt in my mind we could have effected a very good rescue attempt,” she said.

Ms Hassett told the inquest that the D-Boat was “in a constant state of readiness”.

“We would have it launched in five minutes and been on site of the accident in five minutes. That was 10 minutes in all,” she said.

Dr Teresa Laszlo, consultant pathologist, gave the cause of Ms Lucas’s death as drowning. A skull injury was a contributory factor, but not the fatal factor.

Helen McCarthy, a health and safety inspector with the Health and Safety Authority, praised Ms Lucas’s volunteer work from the assessment of her logbooks.

“I have never seen anything quite so meticulous,” Ms McCarthy said.

The person behind the inquest was so fastidious, she said. “She was so dedicated to the Coast Guard,” the inspector said.

Simon Mills SC, for the Irish Coast Guard, said that Ms Lucas was “an absolutely fantastic member of the Coast Guard”.

The inquest before a jury of four men and three women continues.