American woman dies in second Skellig rock fall

A 57-YEAR-OLD American woman died yesterday after sustaining serious head injuries in a fall on Skellig Michael, the UNESCO world heritage site lying 12km off the south Kerry coast.

She is the second person to die in an accident on the 200-metre rock this year.

Another American visitor, Joseph Gaughan, 77, from Wilkbar, Pennsylvania, lost his life there last May, after suffering head injuries in a 30ft fall as he descended.

Later, at an inquest into his death, the coroner for south Kerry, Terence Casey, recommended that additional warning signs be erected on the rock, a spectacular monastic site dating to the seventh century.

He also said that anyone unsteady on their feet should carefully consider whether or not to climb the rock which is visited by 11,000 people each year.

Yesterday’s accident took place at 11.30am as the woman made her up the 600 steps, which do not have safety railings.

The woman was accompanied by her husband and came from Rochester in New York.

She fell between 30ft and 40ft and received severe head injuries.

A doctor and nurse, who happened to be on the rock at the time, attended her, but she died as preparations were being made to airlift her to Cork University Hospital.

A Coastguard helicopter had been called and Valentia lifeboat, which later brought her body ashore at Portmagee, also went to the scene.

The rock is a well known accident black spot and there have been calls for many years for extra safety measures.

Kerry Fianna Fáil councillor Michael Cahill, who has raised the issue several times, called the Office of Public Works (OPW) to put in safety features, including protective rope railings along the steps.

“I can understand the argument that the character of such an historic site must be maintained, but the health and safety of visitors is paramount,” Mr Cahill said.

“The OPW has said before that putting even a safety rope up would give visitors a false sense of security. Surely a sense of security is better than no security at all.

“Installing safety features like ropes would not be expensive, it would not be out of character and it could help prevent more tragic accidents,” he said.

The OPW, which pointed out signs were already on the rock, has accepted the coroner’s recommendation. As well as providing additional signage, the OPW is handing out information leaflets to visitors and warnings are also posted on websites.


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