Investigations into death of Coast Guard volunteer under way

Minister says Caitriona Lucas made ‘ultimate sacrifice’ while engaged in ‘unselfish’ duties

Two investigations are underway into the death of an Irish Coast Guard volunteer off the coast of Co Clare during a search operation.

Caitriona Lucas (41), a mother of two, died after the rescue boat capsized and threw three volunteers into the sea off Kilkee on Monday.

The other two volunteers were rescued and brought to hospital, where one of them remains.

Statement by the Irish Coast Guard The Irish Coast Guard (IRCG) regrets to announce that a volunteer member of the...

Posted by Irish Coast Guard on Monday, September 12, 2016

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board and Irish Coast Guard on Tuesday started separate investigations into the incident, the first time a Coast Guard volunteer has died during a search and recovery operation.

Ms Lucas, a librarian who lived in Liscannor, was taking part in a search for a man missing since last Friday.

Mattie Shannon, the officer in charge of the Doolin unit of the Coast Guard,said it had not been established yet what exactly happened in the incident.

Declan Geoghegan, manager of voluntary services with the Irish Coast Guard, said the crew had been tasked with the search about 7am on Monday.

“That crew had radioed about midday that they had completed the search and they were ready to return to base,” he said. “Very soon after that then they broadcast a mayday call.”

‘Rogue wave’

Mr Geoghegan said they could not get much information from the call but it indicated the crew were in grave and imminent danger. “They were hit by a rogue wave or something of that nature. I wouldn’t like to speculate until we’ve carried out the investigation,” he said.

The crew of the Shannon-based search and rescue helicopter, Rescue 115, recovered two women from the water.

Ms Lucas was airlifted unconscious from the water and attempts were made to resuscitate her. She was brought to University Hospital Limerick and was pronounced dead.

Her fellow crew member, Jenny Carway (51) from Kilkee, was taken to Kilkee Coast Guard station where she was treated by ambulance paramedics before being transported to hospital for further assessment.

Mr Geoghegan told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that Ms Carway was still being treated at hospital.

The third crew member, James Lucey, the coxswain and also from Kilkee, was rescued more than four hours after the boat overturned. He had scrambled on to rocks beside a cave at the bottom of cliffs but the spot was inaccessible from the air due to the gusting wind, heavy seas and overhanging rocks.

A rescue crew abseiled about 30m down the cliff to reach the volunteer. He was brought to safety by a Coast Guard helicopter winchman after teams moved him to a safe extraction point. He was said to be in a stable condition but exhausted and badly shaken.

Cliff face

Mr Shannon said he and two others from the climbing team abseiled down the side of the cliff face to help Mr Lucey.

“We were about 8m from James. Really there wasn’t much we could do because he was so far away from us...we tried to give him support to calm down and stay there because once he was on dry land he was safe even though he was washed off every so often,” he said.

“He would be washed into this little cove then as the tide would recede he would climb would be able to grab onto some rocks and climb back up again. I don’t know how he did it but he did a great job sustaining life.”

Mr Shannon said the Doolin team was proud to have had Caitriona as a member. “There are many people in the Coast Guard but Caitriona was up there with the best of them,” he said. “Definitely Caitriona is someone to follow and be proud of, and to be part of what she was. She was on top of her game in whatever she did.”

Mr Shannon told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke that Caitriona was dedicated to the Coast Guard and had done more than 700 hours in a year as a volunteer.

‘Real dangers’

President Michael D Higgins has written to express his condolences to the family of Ms Lucas.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the incident highlighted “the real dangers our rescue personnel face and this awful news casts a dark shadow over people all over the island.”

Minister for Transport Shane Ross said Ms Lucas had made the ultimate sacrifice while "engaged in the most heroic of and unselfish of duties".

“Caitriona was a member of that extraordinary group of men and women who dedicate their skills, time and passion so that others may be safe on our coastlines,” he said.

A friend of Ms Lucas, Helen Walsh, who is the county librarian for Clare, said all her colleagues were shocked and saddened.

“A life has just suddenly closed down for no apparent reason and we’re trying to come to terms with that,” she said.

Ms Walsh said Ms Lucas had only completed drawings on the windows of the library for a Roald Dahl event on Sunday.

“We were recalling the amount of things Caitriona was involved in. She was a very humane type of person,” she said.


Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty is an Irish Times journalist