Pigeon flare sparks coast guard rescue operation

The Coast Guard has issued a warning after racing pigeons and a flare triggered a search operation in West Cork at the weekend.

A senior Coast Guard officer urged anyone planning to use fireworks, flares or Chinese lanterns to contact the marine rescue centre in Valentia, in advance.

“We would encourage people to advise Valentia of what they intend to use, and to give them the details of where, when and what duration their event will be,” said Dermot Sheehan, deputy officer in charge of the Goleen Coast Guard unit.

He was speaking after the unit spent 90 minutes scouring the rugged coastline at the southern tip of the Mizen peninsula, on Saturday morning, after reports that a flare had been sighted.

It was later discovered that the flare had been released to mark a racing pigeon ‘liberation’, near Barleycove.

The alarm was raised around 11am, when a person with a holiday home near the scenic Three Castle Head, a few miles west of Barleycove, reported seeing a trail of smoke and a flare, and that its trajectory suggested that someone was in distress near the coast, or or just off shore.

The marine rescue centre, at Valentia, tasked Goleen Coast Guard, and its members were deployed along the coastline, from Barleycove to Dunlough Bay.

As the operation continued, the occupants of several yachts reported to Valentia that they had seen nothing unusual. Coast guard members eventually spoke to a backpacker, who solved the mystery — they had seen a flare being set off as hundreds of pigeons were released from a truck, parked on The Causeway, near Barleycove.

The search operation was stood down.

Mr Sheehan said the holidaymaker did the right thing by raising the alarm.

“The person should be commended for being so observant and civic-minded,” he said.

“You should never be afraid of making that call. If you are in doubt at all, our advice is to alert the authorities and let us check it out. And don’t hesitate. Minutes can be vital.”

He also said that those involved in released the racing pigeons may not have been aware of the protocols around the release of flares, especially near coastal areas.


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