West Cork drowning prompts dual investigations

SEPARATE investigations have been launched by gardaí and officials from the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) into the tragic accident which claimed the life of a 62-year-old Swiss tourist off the west Cork coast.

The man died after the boat in which he and nine others were travelling capsized while they were making their way through rough seas from Colla Pier, on the mainland just outside Schull, to Coney Island.

Denis Quinlan of Schull Inshore Rescue was one of dozens of people involved in the rescue operation.

“Conditions were pretty bad, with winds gusting around 40-50 knots from the northwest. It was very dark last night, there was a lot of cloud cover, and the fact that there was virtually no moon meant we could hardly see anything,” Mr Quinlan said.

The narrow sound between the shoreline and nearby island is normally protected from the prevailing winds by the island itself, but Thursday night’s strong winds were from the more exposed northwesterly direction.

“It was gusting down the channel and it was fairly strong,” Mr Quinlan said.

He estimates that the rescue crew were in the water between 20 and 30 minutes before they came upon the body of the Swiss tourist — just east of Long Island pier.

“It didn’t take too long, we were fortunate. At the time we were going on a lot of scrambled information which was coming hither and tither — none of it was being confirmed for a while because nobody knew,” he said.

“Eight of them had made their way up to a cottage on Long Island and had taken refuge there, obviously soaking wet from being in the water and in a distressed condition. They had the foresight to break into this cottage, put on some heat and cover themselves with whatever clothing and blankets they could find,” Mr Quinlan said.

He believes that a “combination of elements” contributed to the tragedy.

“I know that there was engine failure. They had an auxiliary engine on board and, in the process of changing from the main engine to the auxiliary, that’s when the difficulties arose. The boat possibly began taking water, became swamped and overturned,” Mr Quinlan said.

Baltimore lifeboats arrived on the scene after the recovery of the body. The rescue operation was also joined by a helicopter from Shannon, but conditions were understood to be too difficult for the helicopter to land or even operate a winch.

The survivors were transferred by ambulances to Bantry General Hospital, from where they were released yesterday.

County Councillor Dermot Sheehan, a member of the Goleen coastguard, said that, even onshore, the conditions were very poor.

“It was pitch black, very windy and driving rain. It was so bad that plans to airlift the men to CUH (Cork University Hospital) had to be abandoned and they were taken to hospital in Bantry instead,” he said.

The dead man’s name will not be released until gardaí have contacted all his relatives.

Meanwhile, Irish Water Safety (IWS) has appealed to water enthusiasts to be vigilant in relation to safety in the coming weeks, describing the loss of life in west Cork yesterday as a terrible tragedy for all involved.

Sympathising with the family of the Swiss man and with others who have suffered the loss of a loved one this year via drowning, John Leech, IWS chief executive, pleaded with people to wear life jackets if they are engaged in water-based activities.

“Obviously we would be sending our sympathies to the relatives of this man.

“It is a tragedy for all involved. In general, our message is the same as it ever was: Please wear a life jacket. The whole tragedy [in west Cork] will make people focus on this — 85% of drownings can be avoided by the wearing of life jackets. That would be our simple, straightforward message.”

An average of 160 people drown in Ireland each year. Most of these tragic deaths happen inland, in rivers and lakes, on farms and in and around homes and these accidents are preventable.

IWS says no matter what the aquatic sport or activity you’re involved in, wear your lifejacket or buoyancy aid when on or near the water.

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