Hero garda who died in tragic dive hailed for his courage in saving seven
An off-duty garda who died diving off the Wexford coast has been hailed for his courage in risking his life many times to save others.
Tributes to father-of-four Dave Hearne (46) were led by Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail TD, chairman of the Irish Bravery Awards Council.
He said the garda followed in the footsteps of his father, who was also honoured for his courage.
"I was deeply saddened to learn of the tragic death of Garda Hearne in Wexford," he said.
"He was a worthy recipient of a certificate of bravery in 2016, which was awarded to him for rescuing a man from the Colligan River in Waterford.
"In his selfless service to others, Gda Hearne followed in the footsteps of his father, Declan, who was a bravery award recipient in 1958.
"My thoughts and prayers are with Gda Hearne's wife, children and wider family."
The hero officer saved seven lives in just three years thanks to his water skills and later received multiple awards.
He died after apparently suffering the "bends" - decompression sickness - during a recreational dive on a wreck site 15km off Hook Head on Saturday.
He was diving with Hook Sub Aqua Club, of which he was an active member.
Gda Hearne was a former member of the Garda Water Unit but had been based in Waterford over recent years as part of the Traffic Corps.
Sub aqua club members were operating around 10km from where the search was ongoing for missing Wexford fisherman Dominic 'Dom' Sinnott.
Mr Sinnott vanished last Friday while fishing off Kilmore Quay.
The divers were not taking part in the search at the time but are understood to have been on standby.
It is thought the garda was completing a dive on the wreck site around lunchtime with two colleagues when he was suddenly taken ill.
The divers immediately took him to the surface and raised the alarm.
A number of Naval Service, Irish Coast Guard and RNLI units were in the area as part of the search operation for the lost fisherman.
Gda Hearne was taken on board the patrol vessel LE Orla and rushed ashore.
The Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 117 transferred him to University Hospital Waterford via Waterford Airport.
Tragically, he was pronounced dead on admission.
A native of Fethard, Co Wexford, Gda Hearne spent most of his career based in the south-east.
Gardai in Waterford and Wexford expressed shock at the death of a hugely respected colleague.
"The entire force is in shock," one garda involved in search-and-rescue operation said.
"He was the nicest guy you could ever work alongside. He has received numerous awards over the years for his commitment to lifesaving."
Tributes were also paid by emergency services in Waterford who hailed him "a real-life hero".
Waterford Marine Search and Rescue said they were heartbroken. "We are so sorry to hear of the tragic passing of Gda David Hearne.
"Dave was a good friend of ours. We would like to offer our condolences to his family, friends and his colleagues."
A Waterford Ambulance Service spokesperson said: "Our thoughts and prayers are with our colleagues at Waterford Garda Station following the untimely death of Gda Hearne.
"He was a very popular and a highly decorated guard, having won a number of awards for bravery. Sincere sympathy to his family, friends and work colleagues at this most difficult time."
Another tribute was paid by Dunmore East Coast Guard, where volunteers knew Gda Hearne well.
"He will be remembered for his selfless commitment to the community in which he was stationed, borne out by his receipt of numerous bravery awards.
"We would like to convey our sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues," it said.