“Every day is tough, but we’ll go through it,” Eddie Dziato said.
He was speaking after an inquest into the deaths last summer of German retirees Mike Schmidt, aged 69, who lived at Firkeale, Glengarriff, Richard Harman, aged 69, The Village, Glengarriff and Wolfgang Schroder, aged 62, Dromleigh South, Bantry.
The trio drowned after all four were forced to jump overboard when flames engulfed Mr Schmidt’s boat on August 16 last when it was about three miles off Roancarrig lighthouse in the bay at Adrigole.
“Today is just a great day to be alive,” said the 46-year-old who lives in Glengarriff, Co Cork.
He is confident he can recover and also hoped the inquest would gave closure to his friends’ relatives.
The inquest was told the friends set off on a fishing trip from Mr Schmidt’s pier in Glengarriff at 9am on board his 30-foot fibre glass vessel, Castaway.
They spent the day rod angling in Bantry Bay and everyone, except Mr Harman, consumed beer, wine, whiskey and rum-and-cokes. But as they headed for home sometime after 5pm, they noticed the boat was taking on water.
Mr Schmidt, who was a master mariner, turned on three electrical bilge pumps but, within 20 minutes, they saw smoke coming from behind the instrument panel in the wheelhouse.
They then saw flames and insulation material began to melt. Mr Dziato turned an extinguisher on the flames but they grew larger. “Mike couldn’t believe what was happening,” he said.
Mr Dziato said the blaze prevented them from getting to the area at the front of the boat where the lifejackets were stored.
The witness said he grabbed his mobile phone, dialled 999 and told the operator the boat was on fire.
Transcripts of the call were read into the record. The last thing Mr Schroder told the operator was: “We’re in deep shit.”
Mr Schmidt cut the boat’s bumpers from the side and threw them into the water as flotation devices, before the intense heat forced all four to jump overboard. Mr Harman couldn’t swim.
“Richard was grabbing at me. I told him to lay on his back and take off his boots and jacket. I told him to stay calm,” Mr Dziato said.
“I put one hand under his back while I paddled with the other. After a few minutes, he just rolled back, and looked at me with a look of ‘thank you’ in his eyes.
“His eyes rolled back, foam came out of his mouth, and I let him go.”
Mr Dziato then found Mr Schmidt floating face down in the water.
A coast guard helicopter, which was assisting in a search for hill-walkers nine miles away, was on the scene within minutes and Mr Dziato was winched on board.
The bodies of Mr Harman, Mr Schmidt and Mr Schroder were retrieved a short time later. All were pronounced dead by a GP on the helipad at Castletownbere.
An autopsy established that they all died from drowning.
The boat sank and despite dives by gardaí, it could not be retrieved for examination.
Shipwright John Murphy said he had concerns about the vessel’s wiring after carrying out repairs on it three months earlier.
He said he found several live wires exposed near a fuel tank and removed them, and noticed “untidy wiring” behind the wheelhouse instrument panel.
“I mentioned it to him (Mr Schmidt) that it should be dealt with but I got no instructions. He told me that he planned to sell the boat at the end of the season and would repair the wires later,” he said.
Mr Murphy also said Mr Schmidt told him some weeks later about a fire in a circuit board which he had repaired himself.
Mr Murphy told coroner, Frank O’Connell, that he was concerned about the state of the boat but felt it was seaworthy and that Mr Schmidt was competent to deal with it. But he admitted that he wouldn’t have put to sea in it himself.
He said an electrical overload behind the instrument panel was the most likely cause of the fire.
Mr O’Connell returned a verdict of accidental death in all three cases and extended his sympathies to the families.
“When you come down here today and see the weather and surroundings, it’s not in the least surprising that people retire here. They had a great day’s fishing and this was a tragic end.”
Matthias Timm, a nephew of Mr Schroeder, said his uncle’s death was a big loss for the family.
“It was very tragic. It was only one year since he retired. It was an accident. Things happened very fast.”