A KILLALOE Coast Guard member has netted a national gallantry award for the bravery he showed in saving the lives of three people off Inisheer Pier last June.
Transport Minister, Shane Ross presented the Michael Heffernan Bronze Medal for Marine Gallantry to Charlie Hennigar at the Marine Gallantry and Meritorious Service Awards ceremony in Farmleigh House in the Phoenix Park on Friday evening.
On Monday, June 6, 2016, Mr Hennigar, who was off duty, was responsible for rescuing three people, when the gangway between the pier on Inisheer and an island ferry ditched into the water, as the stern drifted back out from the quay wall.
Realising the gangway was about to fall, as the ferry drifted out, Mr Hennigar managed to pull a woman off the gangway.
Subsequently, another woman and a man fell into the water, between the ferry and quay wall.
Mr Hennigar climbed down the ladder and managed to pull the woman to safety and then entered the water to swim over to the man to rescue him.
He brought the man, who could not swim, to safety with the aid of a life belt.
Mr Hennigar told The Clare Champion he was thrilled to get such a prestigious award and has already received a tremendous reaction to it locally.
“I have had a lot of people in the locality wishing me well and congratulating me. It is great to be recognised for the rescue in Inisheer. It is also a recognition of the good training members receive in Killaloe Coast Guard,” he said.
In addition to training with Killaloe Coast Guard, Mr Henniger believes the towing skills he learned while diving with the Burren Sub Aqua Club proved to be very beneficial during this rescue.
“It just came naturally to me. My father, Charlie, who was in the Irish Defence Forces, was also a rescue diver. I was always interested in water sports, fishing and swimming.
“It was great to put my diving and coast guard training into good use saving people’s lives but I didn’t put myself in danger.”
A native of Limerick City, Charlie is living in Killaloe. Having joined Killaloe Coastguard more than four years ago, he is currently the unit’s maintenance officer and is trained to operate their ROV, the underwater camera.
Last September, Mr Henniger provided lifesaving CPR treatment with another colleague from Killaloe Coast Guard to a heart attack victim at the National Ploughing Championships in Laois.
A spokesman for the Killaloe unit congratulated Charlie for his “well deserved” award.
The other award recipients were recognised for outstanding acts of courage, heroism, skill and initiative in the context of marine emergency incidents.
The scheme also recognises exceptional dedication to duty in the execution of Ireland’s marine emergency response.
Three levels of medal may be awarded, based on the level of gallantry involved. The medal is awarded in gold, silver or bronze.
Minister Ross praised the “courageous achievements and service of this group of brave Irish men and women, who have faced crises and dug deep, offering their skills and, in many cases, placing themselves in danger, in order that others might be safe on our waterways.”
Pausing to remember those who lost their lives at sea since the last set of awards in 2014, Minister Ross spoke of the tragic death of Doolin Coast Guard member, Caitríona Lucas last month.
He described her as “a courageous and heroic woman, who made the ultimate sacrifice while in the service of others”.
By Dan Danaher