The Irish soldier who died in a tragic parachuting accident in Spain on Sunday has been remembered as a champion for all the Defence Forces values, especially moral and physical courage, selflessness and integrity.

Speaking as an investigation was launched into the fatal tragedy, Defence Forces leaders here said Acting Sergeant Major Declan ‘Doc’ O’Connell was a great soldier, team-mate and friend to all who knew him, and a born leader who inspired the many cadets that he trained over the years,”

The 54-year-old Co Kildare man was due to marry his long-term partner in the coming weeks, and had travelled to Spain on his own time to gain further qualifications as a skydiving instructor in a private capacity.

It is reported that he became entangled in the lines of his parachute during a jump while on the training course with Skydive Spain.

It was the same club with which a member of the British Red Devils display team also died, while skydiving in the same area last October.

Skydive Spain confirmed Mr O’Connell (54) had flown with it and said it was assisting Spanish police in their ongoing investigation.

Acting Sgt Maj O’Connell joined the Defence Forces in February 1990 and his home unit was the Cadet School, Military College in the Defence Forces Training Centre in the Curragh Camp.

He had a very distinguished 33-year career in the Defence Forces and completed a number of international military courses, including the prestigious Platoon Sergeants Battle Course with the UK Armed Forces, and leadership courses in the NATO School, in Oberammergau, Germany.

He was a physical training instructor, confidence training instructor, driving instructor, APC Instructor and live fire tactical trainer, and he trained officer cadets in the Cadet School for over 20 years.

He also served overseas on nine occasions with the Defence Forces, in Lebanon, Kosovo, Mali and Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Acting Sgt Maj O’Connell was an avid parachutist and jumpmaster who qualified as a military jumpmaster in 2018 and had completed almost 700 jumps.

“Declan was an outstanding soldier and leader who was highly respected by all who had the pleasure to serve with him. He will be sorely missed by his Defence Forces family and my thoughts and condolences go out to his family at this extremely difficult time,” said Lieutenant General Seán Clancy, the Chief of Staff of the Irish Defence Forces,

The Deputy Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces and President of Defence Forces Parachuting, Major General Adrian Ó Murchú, said “Acting Sgt Maj Declan ‘Doc’ O’Connell was “an exemplar for all that is good about the Defence Forces”.

“Along with his remarkable military career, overseas service and many other achievements, he was a leading member of the ‘Black Knights’, the Defence Forces Parachute Display Team.

“In that capacity he was always the first to volunteer, either to take part in a display or to support the team as Drop Zone Controller, even if it meant that he didn’t get to jump himself,” he added.

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