Rescue 116 crew member ‘knew how to make people smile’

Hundreds attend memorial service for winch-operator Paul Ormsby in Dublin

Rescue 116 crew member Paul Ormsby was a consummate professional who knew how to make people laugh and smile, his memorial service has heard.

Hundreds attended the service on Saturday for the winch-operator in St Matthew’s church, Ballyfermot, Co Dublin.

Prince William was among those to experience the Irish Coast Guard airman's quick wit, Ormsby's colleague, Capt Ed Shivnen, told attendees.

Capt Shivnen recalled how Ormsby met the prince – who is himself a search-and-rescue pilot – when he was part of a joint mission with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) to assist the crew of a cargo vessel in the Irish Sea.


Over a cup of tea afterwards at the RAF Valley base in Wales, Prince William joked that he had never seen so many Irish Coast Guard helicopters in one place.

“That’s cause we’re invading,” was Ormsby’s response.

“You can have the whole place as far as I’m concerned,” was the prince’s rejoinder.

Ormsby died, along with colleagues Capt Dara Fitzpatrick (45), Mark Duffy (51) and Ciarán Smith (38), after the Rescue 116 Sikorsky S-92 helicopter crashed on March 14th at Blackrock Island, 13km west of north Co Mayo.

His body and that of winchman Ciarán Smith have not been recovered, in spite of extensive air, sea and shore searches.

Members of the Fitzpatrick, Duffy and Smith families attended Saturday’s service, along with colleagues, friends and neighbours of the Ballyfermot winchman.

Attendees expressed sympathies to Ormsby's sister Angela, his brothers John and Patrick and his niece and nephew Jennifer and David Keating.

Celebrant Fr Joe McDonald said that while the loss of Ormsby was “huge”, those left behind must “remember in sadness but with deep gratitude what he had achieved”.

In his tribute, Capt Shivnen recalled how his former colleague worked with the Air Corps before joining CHC and the Irish Coast Guard's Dublin base in 1998, training many of the air crew he would later fly with.

A pilot over a ship’s deck is only as good as the winch-operator voicing commands in relation to position, Capt Shivnen explained, saying Ormsby’s voice was “calming in the sometimes harsh environments we operate in”.

Capt Shivnen recalled a doctor’s description of a winchman rescuing a casualty as the “purest form of humanity” he had ever witnessed.

“To Paul this purest form of humanity was his job, his actions have directly helped and saved hundreds of people over his years using his professionalism, skill and care at both ends of the wire . . . in all weather conditions.”


The winch-operator’s flight suit and flight helmet, hill-walking boots and awards were among the symbols of his life brought to the altar.

His niece Jennifer led the prayers of the faithful.

Minister for Transport Shane Ross represented the Government at the service. President Michael D Higgins was represented by his aide-de-camp, Capt Eoin Rochford, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny by his aide-de-camp, Commdt Dave Duff.

Music was by Rebecca Murphy, Emily O'Dwyer and Caraíosa Cleary of the Spirito Voci choir, who share a connection with Ormsby. Ms Murphy's father, Eoin, is an engineer at the Irish Coast Guard Dublin base.

A poem entitled The Aftermath was read by Emma Desay, the daughter of Rescue 116 crew panel Richie Desay.

Dublin Fire Brigade piper Paul McNally played a selection of slow airs as a guard of honour was formed at the church by Coast Guard and emergency services.

A Rescue 116 Sikorsky S-92 also hovered over the church and dropped its nose as its crew saluted their former colleague – to applause from below.

Capt Shivnen quoted a verse written by Fergus Sweeney for a previous memorial at Blacksod lighthouse.

“You are a rumble in the sky

“You are a flickering star

“You are hope in the darkness

“You are warmth in the cold

“You are a hand to reach for

“You are a face to behold

“You are Rescue 116.”

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times