The Aer Corps have a motto ‘Go Mairidis Beo’ its accepted translation is ‘So others may live’ which echos the US Air Force Pararescue motto. It stands as a statement of commitment from the people who will place the lives of others above their own.
It also is very apt to apply it to Irish sailors, who in all weathers will put to sea in small RHIBs, against the fury of the ocean and into the face of the storm to save their fellow mariners who are in peril on the sea.
On the night of the 30th of January 1990 the LÉ DEIRDRE was at anchor in Lawrence’s Cove in the shelter of Bere Island from severe gale force winds. A terrible drama was unfolding close by, the Spanish fishing vessel, Nuestra Senora de Gardtoza, (Our Lady of Gardtoza) had run aground on rocks near Roancarrigmore Light, North East of Bere Island in Bantry Bay. She was taking water and she had 16 souls onboard.
LÉ DEIRDRE received the ‘MAYDAY’ at 2100hrs and as quickly as she could, the crew weighed anchor and headed out of shelter into the severe gale towards the distressed vessel.
The decision was taken to launch the ships Gemini to attempt a rescue, this was due to no helicopter support being available and there was no way to manoeuvre LÉ DEIRDRE in close to the vessel due to the weather.
Leading Seaman Michael Quinn, a native of Drogheda along with Able Seaman Paul Kellett from Dublin volunteered to crew the Gemini as boat Coxswain & Bowman respectively. The highly experienced seamen committed to their perilous task, while knowing the risks, in the face of the horrendous conditions.
L/Sea Micheal Quinn DSM
Once the Gemini manoeuvred close enough to the ‘Gardtoza’ it quickly became apparent that boarding the stricken vessel or a rescue would not be possible. Unable to board L/Sea Quinn took the decision to attempt to return to his vessel, then disaster struck. The wind & waves capsized the small boat and cast both sailors into the churning waters.
The brave comrades were separated in the darkness and an exhausted A/Sea Kellett was washed ashore on rocks near Dereen cove. Only concerned with raising the alarm and finding his crew-mate, he pushed himself through the barrier of utter exhaustion; he clambered up over the jagged rocks, as they tore flesh from his naked feet until he managed to reach the main road. A passing Garda patrol picked him up and he passed the message that L/Sea Quinn was lost out there in the blackness.
There were soon two operations underway, an RAF Sea King Helicopter arrived to successfully rescue the crew of the Gardtoza and a number of merchant vessels joined LÉ DEIRDRE in searching for L/Sea Quinn.
Sadly the next morning an Air Corps Dauphin helicopter, at 0800hrs on the 31st sighted and recovered the body of Leading Seaman Quinn, 3 miles east of the tragic scene.
Borne by comrades, L/Sea Quinn DSM is laid to rest with full military honours.
L/Sea Quinn was only 27 at the time of his death and the survivor A/Sea Kellet was only 21. Their courage and their commitment to the each other, the Naval Service and the nation is an example of the spirit of Óglaigh na hÉireann, which shone as brightly in these two young men as it has ever shone in any patriot.
In recognition of his unselfish bravery and devotion to duty, the Distinguished Service Medal was posthumously awarded to L/Sea Quinn. The King of Spain also made a posthumous award of the Spanish Cross of Naval Merit in recognition of his brave attempts to rescue the Spanish crew. A/Sea Kellett was also awarded both medals in equal recognition of his bravery and dedication to duty.