Three crew missing as coast guard reels from 'dark day'
The devastated family of Rescue 116 crash victim Dara Fitzpatrick have paid an emotional tribute to the brave helicopter pilot.
The 45-year-old and three other crew members crashed into the sea off the coast of Co Mayo.
They had travelled from Dublin to the west of Ireland to assist in a rescue mission and were travelling to nearby Blacksod to refuel when contact was lost at 1am.
It is still unclear what caused it to crash.
Dubliner Dara was recovered from the sea but died a short time later.
She was originally from Kilternan in south Dublin and attended secondary school at Muckross Park College in Donnybrook.
"We are so proud of Dara's work and all she has done to save the lives of others over the years," her family said in a statement.
"We are completely heartbroken and we pray for the recovery of the other three crew.
"She is survived by her three-year-old son, her three sisters, brother and her parents."
Dara's sister, Niamh, also paid tribute.
"My brave sister Capt Dara Fitzpatrick lost her life. We are devastated. Please pray for recovery of 3 remaining crew," she tweeted.
The three other crew members were named as Paul Ormsby, Ciaran Smith and Mark Duffy.
Searches were due to resume at first light this morning, but hope for their recovery is fading.
Father-of-two Mr Duffy, from Blackrock, Co Louth, joined the coast guard in 2002.
Winchman Mr Smith (38) lives in Old Town, north Dublin, with his wife Martina and their three young daughters.
Members of the Irish Coast Guard were involved in a search operation to locate the three missing men throughout yesterday, and were assisted by the RNLI, the Air Corps and the Defence Forces, as well as local fishing vessels.
Families of the missing members gathered at the lighthouse in Blacksod, Co Mayo, shortly after 6pm last night, when they met rescue workers involved in the search for their loved ones.
The Irish Coast Guard's VS&T operations manager Gerard O'Flynn said the search would be scaled down overnight and would resume this morning.
"The search will continue, albeit at a reduced level," Mr Flynn said last night.
He had earlier confirmed that Capt Fitzpatrick had been pronounced dead in hospital.
She was one of very few female civilian rescue pilots worldwide.
"Dara was the most senior pilot and has been with the company for close on 20 years," said Mr O'Flynn.
"For all of us involved in the coast guard and for particularly her family it has come as a complete shock."
The debris recovered included a tail fin of the helicopter, with the words "Coast Guard" on its side. The fuel tank of the helicopter was also recovered.
The recovery of the flight recorders, or the black box, will be crucial in determining what happened.
The flight data is recorded on a crash-proof, solid-state memory unit.
It holds 25 hours of flight data, height, speed, engine temperatures and other parameters as well as up to two hours of audio data.
Its recovery is a top priority for investigators of the Air Accident Investigation Unit from the Department of Transport.
If it is recovered intact, investigators will be able to download its data and digitally recreate the doomed last flight of Rescue 116.
President Michael D Higgins led tributes to Capt Fitzpatrick and the missing crew last night.
He said the people of Ireland are indebted to the "courage, resolution and exemplary commitment" of Capt Fitzpatrick and her crew.
He said it marked a "dark day in the history of the coast guard", with a member of the service losing her life while providing assistance to others.
"On behalf of the people of Ireland, may I pay tribute to Captain Dara Fitzpatrick who died," the President said.
"My thoughts are with her family at this difficult moment and also with the families of the missing crew.
"It is appropriate that we acknowledge and pay tribute to the efforts of her colleagues at the coast guard, who have been working at a time which must be for them a time of great grief and uncertainty."