Wife fought to save husband in kayak accident

A BRAVE woman battled for almost three hours to keep her husband afloat after a kayaking accident off the south coast, an inquest heard yesterday.

Margaret Heneault told Cork City Coroner’s Court how she used ropes and her own paddles to keep her distressed husband Didier’s head above water after he fell from his kayak off Castletownshend in West Cork on May 30 last.

“I waited for hours and hours [for help to arrive],” she said in the witness box.

Didier, 56, a French national who was living in Nohoval, Kinsale, was in obvious distress from the moment he fell in the water, she said.

But the couple was hidden from view from the mainland. Despite his weight and collapsed state, Ms Heneault managed to keep him afloat for three hours until help arrived.

Despite the efforts of Coastguard, lifeboat and HSE ambulance crews, Mr Heneault was pronounced dead after he was airlifted to Cork University Hospital.

A postmortem examination established he died from heart failure due to heart disease following immersion in cold water, in combination with hypothermia. City coroner Dr Myra Cullinane returned a verdict of accidental death and commended Ms Heneault for her bravery. “You went through heroic efforts to save your husband whom you obviously loved very much,” she said.

Mr and Ms Heneault were experienced kayakers and set off from Castletownshend Pier at about 10am.

Ms Heneault described her husband as fit and healthy for his age but a postmortem revealed he had an enlarged heart.

The couple headed out together in good, calm sea and weather conditions for Horse Island. But about an hour into the trip, as Mr Heneault paddled behind his wife on the far side of the island, he fell out of his kayak.

“To have capsized in those conditions would have been unusual. There was no normal reason for him to be in the water,” Ms Heneault said. He tried to get back into his kayak but began to slip through his life-jacket. Ms Heneault said he grabbed her kayak but was only barely hanging on and appeared weak.

He then muttered something about a radio, lost his grip, his head flopped backwards and his eyes remained open.

Ms Heneault said she used ropes and her paddles to keep his head above the water, and screamed for help. But it was 2.30pm before the couple was found by Traolach Layton and Barry Whelan, who were kayaking nearby.

As Mr Whelan and Ms Heneault kept Didier afloat, Mr Layton paddled the entire group around Horse Island towards a beach on the mainland side where he was able to get a mobile phone signal and raise the alarm.

Dr Cullinane described it as a terrible tragedy and said unfortunately the postmortem had not been able to establish whether Mr Heneault had suffered a cardiac event causing him to fall into the water, or had suffered the cardiac event after he had entered the water.


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