Farmer, 82, fell 40 feet off cliff trying to rescue a calf, inquest hears

An inquest has heard how an 82-year-old farmer fell some 40 feet off a cliff while trying to rescue a calf.

A number of witnesses told how Anthony O’Sullivan, of Gortahig, Allihies, in West Cork, was struck by a rope that snapped while it was pulling the calf and that he appeared to wobble as he tried to regain his balance before he fell from the cliff edge at Reentrisk on the afternoon of October 7 last.

One witness, neighbour Monica Van Elferen, told a sitting of the coroners court in Bantry: “We made eye contact briefly before he fell off.” 

Her husband, Christiaan Muijzert, was standing at the base of the cliff when the stricken animal first fell, and then Mr O’Sullivan fell from the edge.

“He fell head first onto the rocks and I turned away just before impact,” he said.

 

Coroner Frank O’Connell heard how the tragic incident unfolded at land rented by Mr O’Sullivan on the Saturday in October last year.

Garda Iris McSweeney outlined how gardaí were alerted that a man had fallen from a cliff at Reentrisk and that by the time she got there the man was deceased.

She said efforts had been made to rescue a cow that had fallen over a cliff, with attempts to bring it up using a gate and a tractor. 

A rope had snapped, hitting Mr O’Sullivan who was standing near the cliff edge. He lost his balance and fell. She estimated the height of the fall at 40ft.

The court heard how emergency services at the scene included the Rescue 115 helicopter, ambulance personnel, and members of the Coast Guard.

Photographs taken by Ms Van Elferen of the rescue attempt of the calf were also shown to the coroner.

In her witness statement Ms Van Elferen said she had got a text from her husband at 12.25pm asking for help in lifting a calf that had fallen off a cliff nearby. Mr Muijzert, who lives at Comeen in Reentrisk near the scene, had been alerted to the stricken calf by Mr O’Sullivan’s wife, Eileen, who had already knocked on the door of Derek Lowes, seeking help.

Mr Lowes, of Eskivaude near where the incident occurred, and Luke Lewis, who lives in Kenmare and who was visiting his partner that day, all joined the rescue attempt.

Mr Muijzert said attempts were first made to walk the animal back up to the cliff top but the calf couldn’t stand.

It was decided the only way to get the animal to safety was to bring it up by tractor, with Mr Lowes fetching his Massey Ferguson 165.

The court heard that at least three attempts were made to bring the calf up, the animal making it almost as far as the cliff top but being stopped by an overhang. A gate was anchored to a steel pole in the ground to help ease the animal up and to stop the pull rope biting into the ground.

After a failed attempt the group decided to move a few feet along the cliff where the overhang was less pronounced.

Mr Muijzert told Mr O’Sullivan to go up to the cliff top as the tide was coming in. The group was using hand signals to co-ordinate the pull. 

Mr Muijzert was at the cliff base and said he saw Mr O’Sullivan holding the gate at an angle with one hand before then putting his other hand on the gate. The rope snapped, hitting him, and he lost balance.

Mr Lewis said the cow fell onto the beach and seconds later Anthony followed.

He was still breathing through his mouth but unconscious. He then stopped breathing and those present began performing CPR and later used a defibrillator in an attempt to resuscitate him, but he was pronounced dead at the scene shortly afterwards by a local doctor.

Giving evidence at the inquest, assistant State pathologist Dr Margot Bolster said autopsy results showed a depressed fracture and other fractures to the left side of Mr O’Sullivan’s skull, plus other injuries such as lacerations to his left kidney and lung. 

She said he had suffered traumatic brain injury and poly trauma due to a fall from a height.

Mr O’Connell returned a verdict of accidental death in the case and extended his sympathies not just to Mr O’Sullivan’s wife, Eileen, and son, John, who were present, but also to the neighbours and friends who he said had been trying to help on the day.



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