An Irish Coast Guard search and rescue (SAR) helicopter winchman has been described as “one of Irelands true and honest heroes”.
Tributes have been paid to Daithí Ó Cearbhalláin, one of the country’s most experienced and decorated winchmen, who passed away on Wednesday on the 27th anniversary of a rescue mission for which he later received the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM).
The retired Irish Air Corps Flight Sergeant, who spent over twenty years in the Irish Defence Forces, was a winchman and senior crewman on the Shannon based Irish Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 115.
The former Army Ranger was also on the very first search and rescue mission carried out from the base at Shannon Airport.
The Coolock man, who has been resident in Clare for many years, worked as a winchman mainly on search and rescue operations with the Air Corps where he also studied paramedic skills.
By the time he had finished in the Air Corps Daithí had reached the position of chief crewman and had been honoured with several awards including the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) while still a Corporal.
After 21 years in the Air Corps, Daithí joined CHC Helicopters who had secured the contract to operate four search and rescue (SAR) bases at Shannon, Dublin, Waterford and Sligo on behalf of the Irish Coast Guard.
After transferring to Shannon Daithí became senior crewman and later promoted to chief crewman taking on a managerial role with responsibility for standards within the operation.
Daithí’s first love however was flying and so he returned to the air in 2015. Having flown on Alouettes and Dauphines in the Air Corps and the Sikorsky S61N in the Coast Guard, Daithí relished the challenge of working on a new aircraft, the Sikorsky S92A.
In 2012, CHC Ireland commenced a fleet replacement programme after securing a new €500m contract from the Irish Coast Guard and Department of Transport. The service’s fleet of S61N’s was gradually replaced by the new state-of-the-art Sikorsky S92A.
A spokesman for the Irish Coast Guard said: “We were very sorry to learn of Daithi’s untimely passing. He was a highly respected senior crewman, who gave outstanding service to SAR, both with the Coast Guard and previously with the Air Corps. Those of us involved in SAR recall a man who was extremely proud of his work and somebody who took pride in assisting those whose lives were at risk.”
“He brought great professionalism to all his work and will always be remembered as someone who was at the heart of the development and delivery of Helicopter based search and rescue in Ireland. Daithí was equally committed to training and development and his hallmark is to be found in many of the procedures in everyday use,” the spokesman added.
The Director of the Irish Coast Guard, Chris Reynolds, currently on secondment on an EU mission in Somalia, said: “It’s hard to believe that Daithí Ó Cearbhalláin passed away today. A beautiful person, a friend, advisor and one of Irelands true and honest heroes.”
CHC Ireland said: “Daithí gave so many years of his life in service of Ireland; 21 years with the Irish Air Corps and then 15 years in Shannon for CHC Ireland and the Irish Coast Guard. He was held in the highest esteem as a true professional and deeply respected and admired by his colleagues.”
“Friends and mentors like Daithí don’t come along very often. He was a very special man whose passing will leave a deep sadness but also a lasting legacy amongst the Irish Search And Rescue community,” CHC said.
An Irish Air Corps spokesman said: “It is with great sadness that we in the Irish Air Corps learned of the passing of Flight Sergeant (retired) Dave Carolan DSM. Dave served 21 years in the Defence Forces primarily as a helicopter crewman, and also with the Army Ranger Wing.”
The Helicopter Wing is the most decorated Unit in the Irish Defence Forces and Flight Sergeant Carolan DSM contributed to this legacy, being presented with the Sir Edward Maisie Lewis award, the Department of Marine Meritorious Medal and the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) with Distinction.
The DSM was presented to, then, Corporal Carolan for “displaying a high degree of professionalism, initiative and resource, in assisting in the rescue of four trawlermen from the fishing vessel ‘Locative’ off the Donegal Coast on the 9th of March 1990. Cpl Carolan descended from the helicopter under extremely hazardous conditions and organised all four survivors for lifting”. Such acts of bravery exemplify the unit’s motto “Go Mairidís Beo (That others may live)”.
Dave finished his career with the Irish Air Corps performing the role of chief aircrew examiner, ensuring his exacting standards were instilled within the next generation of helicopter aircrew. He will be missed by all those who knew him. Our thoughts are with his wife Dara and his family,” the spokesman added.
Mr Ó’Cearbhalláin is survived by his wife Dara, daughters Aoife and Niamh, sons Conláed, Tomás and Cuan.
His funeral will take place in Quin, Co Clare on Saturday at 11am.
View full funeral arrangements here.