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Busiest year for rescue unit

The Irish Coast Guard Helicopter Search and Rescue service based in Shannon is having its busiest year to date, according to the unit’s chief pilot.

Clockwise from back left: John Hassett, Paul Truss, Colm Hillery, Eamon O’Broin, Daithí Carolan, Davitt Ward and Liam Flynn from the Shannon Coast Guard at the launch of Rescue 115, an RTÉ documentary series that follows the rescue crews from Shannon Coast Guard. Photograph by Declan MonaghanPeople will have the opportunity to get an intimate view of just what the crew does in a new television programme, Rescue 115, which is to be broadcast on RTÉ and was aired in a special screening in Ennis last week. The programme follows last year’s hugely successful Rescue 117, which centred on Waterford-based Sikorsky S61N Rescue 117 unit.
Former Royal Navy pilot Liam Flynn is chief pilot with the IRCG search and rescue service in Shannon. 
“Last year, the Shannon base had its busiest year. It can be very hit and miss though. You could have good weather and think it will be very quiet but end up really busy, then in very bad weather you might think you would be very busy but it might be quiet so it is very hard to predict. The last two months have been manic, with about one call out per day. Before that you might be called out every other day or so. It is not unknown in the last couple of months to do two or three jobs a day,” he explained.
“We get a lot of training to deal with difficult situations. We are very fortunate in that we have a wealth of experience and even if you get something exotic say, there is bound to be someone who has experienced something like it before. We also train everyday so we try to be prepared for things that might happen,” Mr Flynn outlined.
Mark Reinher featured on Rescue 117 and outlined the impact of the original series on the Waterford search and rescue service.
“It was huge. Lots of people approached us to say they saw the programme. It brought home to people what the rescue services do in Ireland. Often, people don’t see it because a lot of the time it happens at night. I have a lot to do with competitive fishing so I see the effect the programme had on safety too and the way it is treated at sea. The programme is an eye-opener and maybe people see certain situations on it and get a warning from that. It reminds people to be prepared and raises awareness of wearing life jackets and bringing radios. There is also an added awareness among people that we are there to help them,” Mr Reinher told The Clare Champion.
Dara Fitzpatrick has been in the Irish coast guard for 20 years. She works in Waterford but spent 10 years with the Shannon service. She believes the series will be very positive for community relations in the area.
“From our point of view, it is the best thing that happened in the local community in that they are really with the team and they have taken ownership of the helicopter. Hopefully, that is what will happen in Shannon.
“It was very positive for community relations and it has made people aware of what we do. It also raised awareness of us with the local gardaí, the ambulances, the emergency services in general. They now use the coast guard more and I’m sure that will happen here too,” she said.
During the series, viewers will see the Shannon unit take part in over 18 different rescues – in operations ranging from airlifts from ships on the high seas, to mountain rescues and medical evacuations and the cameras also capture the crews as they battle to save lives in graphic detail.
Executive producer Janet Frawley said, “This series is a roller-coaster of emotions giving the viewers a window into an extraordinary and challenging environment.”
The Irish Coast Guard helicopters are fitted with forward-looking infra radar (FLIR) to detect the heat signature of a person. RTÉ put fixed cameras in the cockpit and cabin of the helicopter and also attached pencil cams to the helmets of the winch crew.
Rescue 115 begins next Tuesday at 8.30pm on RTÉ One.


Award for Shannon Coast Guard
Twenty years of service by the Shannon Coast Guard Helicopter Search and Rescue service was honoured at a special screening of an RTÉ programme about the unit last week.
The Shannon Coast Guard was recognised with a special directors’ award for “outstanding service to maritime search and rescue in Ireland” at the screening of Rescue 115 on Thursday last. This is only the ninth time the directors’ award has been presented.
Director of the Irish Coast Guard, Chris Reynolds, made the presentation.
“We provide a very good service and people give out about the public service all the time but we are the public service,” he said. “Why do we go out when a sane person would sit closer to the fire and pull the duvet a bit higher? We love what we do,” he added.
Mr Reynolds presented the award in recognition of the work of the Shannon Coast Guard over the past 20 years, during which time it has carried out 3,732 missions.
“Over a period of two decades, from 1991 to 2011, their presence day and night, always at the ready, has significantly enhanced Ireland’s ability to effect a successful rescue of those in peril on our seas, coasts inland waters, mountains and offshore islands.
“It is without doubt that the Shannon Coast Guard’s brave, consistent, sustained, professional and outstanding service in maritime SAR has saved many lives and that its transition onto a new generation helicopter on the 21st anniversary of the foundation of the service will result in the saving of many more in years to come,” the award reads.
The Irish Coast Guard is to take possession of new helicopters in December and these are likely to go into service next summer.

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