Tributes paid to ‘hero’ Garda who died while diving off coast

David Hearne, who got into difficulty in the water off Hook Head, had received bravery awards

Waterford-based Gda David Hearne, who was married with four children, had been honoured on a number of occasions for saving people in various river and sea rescues.

Waterford-based Gda David Hearne, who was married with four children, had been honoured on a number of occasions for saving people in various river and sea rescues.


An off-duty garda who died after he got into difficulty while diving off the southeast coast has been remembered by colleagues as a courageous member of Garda who carried out a number of life-saving rescues.

The man, who has been named locally as David Hearne, a native of Fethard-on-Sea in Co Wexford, was diving with a Fethard-on-Sea diving club some 15km off Hook Head on Saturday when he got into difficulty.

It is understood that Gda Hearne had been diving on a wreck some 70m down and was returning to the surface when he succumbed to the bends and lost consciousness.

Two colleagues brought him to the surface and attempts were made to resuscitate him on the dive boat. Plans were made for an Irish Coast Guard helicopter to airlift him to a decompression unit in Galway.

However, Gda Hearne was then pronounced dead on board the dive boat. His body was airlifted to Waterford Airport and then transferred to University Hospital Waterford for a postmortem.

Gda Hearne, who was in his mid-40s and married with four children, lived in Waterford, where he was attached to the Waterford Divisional Traffic Corps operating out of Waterford Garda station in Ballybricken.

A former member of the Garda Water Unit, he was an experienced diver and had been honoured on a number of occasions for saving people in various river and sea rescues in recent years.

Garda colleagues in Waterford spoke of their shock at the news of Gda Hearne’s death.

“People are just hearing the news – it’s a huge shock because Dave was such a great colleague with a wicked sense of humour – a really popular guy who had won several awards for water rescues.”

Underlying his history of emergency work, an article in the Waterford News & Star in July, 2014 began with the poignant words, “Being in the right place at the right time is becoming something of a habit for a Garda David Hearne”.

The report centred on an incident in Dungarvan where Gda Hearne was stationed when a call was received about a man who was in trouble in the Colligan river estuary. As he told the newspaper afterwards, “all attempts to reach with lifebuoys were proving unsuccessful so I took off my uniform and swam towards him. The current was very strong and the man went under two or three times but I managed to secure him and using a lifebuoy as a floating aid, I managed to get him towards the shore”.

That same year, Gda Hearne jumped into the River Suir in Waterford City, to rescue a man who was losing consciousness in the water.

“With colleagues, I made my way to Rice Bridge and when we arrived, the man was on his back and drifting up river,” Gda Hearne said at the time.

“I made my way to Sallypark, crossed the old railway line and removed my stab vest and shoes before jumping over a railing onto the mud bank and into the river. When I got to him, I turned him over and managed to bring him back to the bank where he was transferred to one of the three rescue boats on the scene.

“With the crew members, we continued to carry out CPR until the man was transferred to a waiting ambulance.”

Seven years earlier, on April 21st, 2007, Gda Hearne was again involved in a water rescue when he received a call about a middle aged man in the River Suir.

Gda Hearne ran down the quayside, scrambled down a disused rope and swam through heavy currents to rescue the man who had lost consciousness in the river.

He hung on to a rope for 15 minutes, gripping the man tightly until the emergency services arrived. As reported in the Waterford News & Star at the time, “returning to Waterford Garda Station, he changed into his uniform and went back on duty”.

At 7.30pm the same evening, he received another call about a man who was in trouble in St John’s River. He jumped into the river again, getting pulled under water several times, but managed to pull the man to safety.