Tributes have been paid to co-founder of Lough Neagh Rescue Billy Mullen who has retired after 25 years at the helm.
And a special event was held at Kinnego Marina to celebrate Lough Neagh Rescue’s 25th birthday last week.
The rescue service was founded in July 1989 following the tragic drowning of Portadown builder David Gray Jnr and since has saved hundreds of lives.
David had been returning late on a daytrip from Kinnego Marina to Ballyronan with three friends when their vessel ran out of fuel and sank in the middle of the 200 square mile lough.
That night, three survivors were rescued by Kinnego harbour master Paddy Prunty and Kinnego boat yard owner Billy Mullen, following a midnight phone call from the RUC in Lurgan, who had received a mobile phone call from the sinking vessel.
Following the death of his only son, the late David Gray Snr formed Lough Neagh Rescue along with Paddy Prunty and Billy Mullen - in order that other families might not suffer the same awful loss.
The LNR celebration was tinged with sadness, however, as it also marked the retirement from the Kinnego rescue crew of Billy Mullen - after 25 years of dedicated service and hundreds of callouts.
To mark the occasion, Lough Neagh Rescue Kinnego coxwain Paul Magee had created a unique, framed chart marking all the service call-outs to date, presenting one to Billy Mullen and another to the other founder member of the service, Paddy Prunty.
Billy was also presented with the HM Coastguard crest by Belfast North Sector Manager Gordon Munro and with an ornamental replica of the famous Ardboe Cross by Ardboe LNR training officer and coxwain Stephen Ryan.
LNR Kinnego coxwain and RYA Powerboat Instructor Trainer Paul Magee said: “As an organisation, Lough Neagh Rescue is indebted to Billy Mullen and his entire family for the huge amount of time, effort and selfless service they have given over the years.
Billy’s skill set and knowledge of Lough Neagh has been of huge benefit to the organisation as a whole and indeed to the countless individuals he has helped rescue over the years.”
Billy, tanned and incredibly fit at 72 years of age, told the assembled crews and supporters that it had been an honour to serve in Lough Neagh Rescue.
He said: “It’s been a great 25 years and obviously LNR has been a huge part of my life.
“I have chosen the 4th of July as my official retirement day, as that’s the day this service was born, and it was a turning point for everyone in terms of safety on Lough Neagh.”
Billy’s LNR co-founder Paddy Prunty said he was proud of the way the service had performed, even through the worst of Northern Ireland’s Troubles.
He said: “One of the mainstays of this organisation’s success is the way that people from all backgrounds and cultures work seamlessly together with just one aim – to save lives on Lough Neagh.
“That is the cornerstone of our success and long may it continue.”
Anyone wishing to find out more about the work of Lough Neagh Rescue can visit their website at loughneaghrescue.co.uk, where details of all call-outs are logged and posted.