These were the words of Siobhán Luff, who looked on in horror as her two daughters, Emily, 12, and Isobel, eight, were dragged out on a rip-tide in September 2008 at Spanish Point, Co Clare.
Yesterday, her daughter Emily was one of 16 people who received special awards from Irish Water Safety for saving 17 lives at sea. A total of 158 drownings occurred in Ireland last year.
Watching from the shore, the girls’ mother said she felt completely helpless during the ordeal.
“It was a very real thing. They could have both easily died,” she said.
However, Emily managed to stay with her little sister and keep her calm while Galwegian Thomas Thompson went out on his surfboard in near darkness to rescue the girls.
Due to the poor light Thomas could not see the children. However, he heard their shouts for help and went to their assistance.
“We started trying to swim in but we couldn’t and because I was the stronger swimmer than her I started swimming in first and she said ‘Emily I can’t get in as fast, can you wait for me’ so I started waiting for her and then I realised that we couldn’t get back in. So I started calling out ‘we can’t get back in, help, help’,” said Emily.
Speaking at the awards ceremony yesterday, Minister of State at the Department of the Environment Michael Finneran paid tribute to those who had saved lives.
“One reaches for the word tragic, but it doesn’t seem adequate when the most heartbreaking aspect of drowning deaths is that they are preventable.
“This high figure would be even higher but for the dramatic efforts of these individuals who saved others from drowning and the ongoing work of volunteers teaching swimming and rescue,” he said.
Service Awards were also presented, recognising 1,330 years of personal service of 68 Irish Water Safety volunteers from around the country for teaching swimming, lifesaving, and water survival and rescue skills.
Other recipients included record-breaking swimmer Lisa Cummins, who swam across the English Channel and back on September 20.