CORK City Missing Persons Search and Recovery (CCMPSAR) charity badly needs a new home — so says
David Varian, a volunteer with the organisation. This would allow its members to meet with the families of people who have gone missing and have been found deceased.
David, who works with the Merchant Navy, says that the charity has a big shed at Marina Commercial Park which is used to store equipment. But it needs a base as currently, when the volunteers meet with families, there is no option but to meet them on the street or at coffee shops.
“We’re meeting families at their worst time. We have nowhere to sit down with them. We’re the last people to see their family member. The families want to talk and tell us about their loved one. It can be difficult.”
CCMPSAR is run entirely on donations apart from a grant of €3,500 by Cork City Council in February of this year.
“We have been canvassing Cork City Council for a dedicated base since 2013. Marina Commercial Park are very good to us. But we have no running water. Everybody has to bring their equipment home.”
The charity is always on the case of missing people. In May, it found the skeletal remains in a submerged car that have been identified as Barry Coughlan who went missing 17 years ago. The red Toyota Corolla was spotted by divers from CCMPRAS on May 26 off Hugh Coveney Pier in Crosshaven. Numerous DNA tests confirmed to investigators that the remains were those of Mr Coughlan. A file is being prepared for the coroner by gardaí.
“We stayed on the pier all that night and the following day until the car was removed. We did that to comfort the family as Barry had been so long on his own. Obviously, it was a very sad time for Barry’s family but it was closure for them. It’s a very raw time for the family at the moment,” said David.
Like most of the volunteers, David, 38, had a family member who went missing, in June, 2006.
“My brother Kenneth was found ten days into the search for him. The lads from CCMPSAR came to my parents and said they would search for him. Kenneth was found on the shore of the River Lee.
“In 2008, I joined CCMPSAR because I saw what they did for my family. I wanted to do the same for others. We have volunteers who have a background in the Army and the Navy.”
The volunteers are trained in all aspects of search and recovery including risk assessment, grid searching and navigation. There is a team of divers and equipment that includes side scan sonar and a remotely operated underwater vehicle that gives access to the most inaccessible places while searching. The organisation also has a drone to assist in covering large areas quickly.
Cork City Missing Persons Search and Recovery was started in 2001 by David Linehan, whose father went missing. He was found deceased a couple of weeks later.
“When David set up (the organisation), there was just one boat which was kept in a volunteer’s garden. The boat was bought through donations. Over the years, more people joined and we started expanding, buying more equipment and learning new skills. We have three boats, two jeeps and a van, all bought through fund-raising. We get nothing from the government.”
Robotic equipment is put to great use. The volunteers use a remote underwater robot.
“It has an umbilical cord that’s connected to a laptop. There’s lights on it and a camera. We put it down remotely from quay walls.”
There are some happy outcomes to searches.
“Recently, we were called to Kinsale by the gardaí. We met with them to review what had gone on during the day. Our search co-ordinator, Chris O’Donovan, asked to go back to a certain area. We were able to fly our drone over the area and our drone pilot spotted somebody in a field. It was a woman who had gone missing.
"The lads and paramedics that came along saved her life. It’s very rewarding when someone is found alive.”
In compliance with GDPR regulations, missing persons should first be reported to the gardaí. From there, CCMPSAR’s search co-ordinator liaises with the gardaí and a search strategy can be implemented.
Volunteers with the charity have empathy with the families they come across in the course of their searches.
“We have nearly all dealt with this ourselves. We know what it’s like. If anyone thinks they need a counsellor, we have a number they can contact.”
As well as land and sea searches, CCMPSAR does other voluntary work, such as delivering food hampers for Cork Penny Dinners during lockdown.
“We have brought family members to Marymount Hospice in our jeeps. We do safety boat cover for events such as Ocean to City. We carry defibrillators in our jeeps. We’re trained to use them in case we come upon someone who has had a heart attack.”
David says there has been an increase in the number of missing persons since Covid started. He believes it could be due to lockdown and the isolation some people experience during this time.
“We have teddy bears that are solar lit and have laminated paper attached with the helpline numbers of the HSE and the Samaritans on it. We put them in suicide hot spots in Cork. This has saved lives.”
For more see www.missing.ie.
For anyone wishing to donate to CCMPSAR, the account is at the Lough Credit Union. IBAN: IE88LOCI99106180073951. BIC: LOCIIE21XXX. Swift code: BNPAIE21.