Humble West Cork man to receive rare bravery award for incredible leadership during daring RNLI rescue mission

Humble West Cork man to receive rare bravery award for incredible leadership during daring RNLI rescue mission
Coxswain Dean Hegarty

Coxwain Dean Hegarty may only be 25 years old next week but he has already shown extraordinary leadership in his role as an RNLI volunteer. 

Dean was involved in the dramatic rescue of six fishermen on his first shout out and is to be awarded a Bronze Medal for Gallantry by the RNLI.

RNLI Lifeboat volunteer, Paul Stevens, says that as a pupil in the school where he was principal, Dean always showed leadership. 

He described him as a very capable young man.

“If he was ever in a tricky situation, Dean knew how to get himself out of it!” 

The crew aboard the Clodagh O found themselves in a tricky situation on October 10, 2018, after their propeller became fouled on fishing gear, causing the vessel to lose power, putting the six fishermen in grave and imminent danger.

“Answering an urgent ‘Mayday’ from the fishing crew, from an area known as ‘The Pipers’, immediately South-West of the harbour entrance at Castletownbere, the charity’s lifeboat was launched in darkness into a force 9 gale, driving rain and heavy squalls.

“The weather was atrocious,” says Paul.

“There was only one chance to throw a line onboard and rescue the crew. There would be no second chance.” 

Dean and Mechanic Martin O’Donoghue, and lifeboat volunteers, Seamus Harrington, John Paul Downey, and David Fenton, were aware of the precarious situation which could possibly result in the loss of lives.

Castletownbere RNLI Medal rescue crew
Castletownbere RNLI Medal rescue crew

“Arriving on scene, the lifeboat crew saw the fishing vessel was located in a precarious position and the Coxswain, Dean, made the decision not to take the crew off the boat but instead establish a towline in breaking four to five-metre swells.” 

It was a dramatic and very dangerous scene for all involved.

“With the weather deteriorating, there was only a very short window of opportunity to save the men before the vessel would hit the rocks or hit the cliff face,” says Paul.

“With the Coxswain skilfully manoeuvring the lifeboat into position and holding it steady in mountainous seas, the lifeboat crew on deck successfully established a tow on the first attempt. 

"Dean had to initially steer the lifeboat out to sea to gain a safe separation between the rocks and cliffs before he could turn the lifeboat around and start the journey back to the harbour.” 

It was a very slow and very careful process.

“The tow was carried out at a speed of only half a knot in case it parted,” says Paul.

“It only gathered speed as they found shelter. Once inside the safety of the harbour two local tugboats helped to secure the boat alongside the pier.” 

The operation was a success thanks to the quick thinking of Coxwain Dean Hegarty and his fellow lifeboat volunteers.

“Dean was exceptional on the night,” says Paul.

“He made a good call with good judgement and responded to the dangerous situation superbly.

“The circumstances were dire. It really was the most dramatic rescue.” 

Dean doesn’t do drama.

“When the lifeboat crew were summoned to a crew meeting, Dean attended out of duty.

“He was astounded and almost embarrassed when he discovered that he was to be honoured by the RNLI with a Bronze medal for Gallantry,” says Paul.

“Dean is very modest.

“It is 10 years since a Bronze medal was awarded in Ireland, the last one being awarded in Northern Ireland."

So this award and a framed letter of thanks from the Chairman of the RNLI to Martin O’Donaghue, Seamus Harrington, John Paul Downey and David Fenton along with Deputy Launching Authority, Michael Martin-Sullivan, is a big deal?

“It is a huge deal,” says Paul.

“The RNLI does not do this lightly. 

"The acknowledgement for all concerned is absolutely wonderful.” 

Castletownbere RNLI is in operation since 1997 operating between Mizen Head and Kenmare Bay.

“It is exceptional service with 20 dedicated volunteers who save lives at sea every day they are called out,” says Paul.” 

Will Dean, the shy capable Coxswain of Castletownbere RNLI, celebrate an exceptional 25th birthday next week or will he make his own call staying under the radar?

Paul laughs.

“Dean doesn’t like the limelight. He is an outstanding young man with outstanding leadership skills. 

"He should be very proud.” 

Informing the station of the award, Mr Dowie, Chief Executive of the RNLI said, “In making the awards, the RNLI Trustees recognise the complexity of the service, the level of risk and the quality of decision making by all involved in the service. 

"These awards mark the courage, skill and dedication shown by the Coxwain, crew and officers involved, and are a testament to outstanding teamwork and seamanship in perilous conditions which resulted in the successful rescue of six people.”

 *The award ceremony will take place at a later date to be announced by the RNLI.

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