Egyptian crewman Abdul Mohammed, 43, said he swam with a broken collar bone for up to two hours through freezing water to reach rocks in Glandore Bay after the fishing boat sank on Jan 15 last with the loss of five crew.
“I wake up when we crashed on the rocks,” the father-of-three said.
“Everybody went to the wheel house on the bridge, the boat rolling. Somebody shout to close the door, and I closed it because I was near to the door. About a minute later, there was a shout to open the door.”
Within seconds, Abdul was washed overboard, breaking his collar bone.
“I swam for maybe two hours. I was fighting for my life. If you’re fighting for your life, what do you do?”
He tells his story, and speaks of his intense grief following the loss of his brother, Wael, and the rest of the crew, in an emotional interview with Claire Byrne, who presents the first of the new six-part RTÉ series, Ireland’s Search and Rescue, which will be screened on Sunday.
RTÉ gave 100 cameras — including helmet and cockpits cams — to rescue teams across the country to record their work over the last year. It has resulted in one of the most comprehensive visual accounts of the multi-agency, 26-day Tit Bonhomme search, rescue and recovery operation — one of the largest such operations mounted in Ireland.
The programme features dramatic video footage from Rescue 117 capturing the moment Abdul, who was close to death, was winched aboard.
Coastguard crewmen Neville Murphy and Richard Desay describe how they had fought to keep him alive on the flight to Cork Airport.
Viewers will see underwater video of the sunken trawler filmed by naval divers — the first time that such operational footage from the Irish Naval Service has been screened on Irish television.
With unique access to the rescue crews involved, the programme charts the entire operation — described by President Michael D Higgins as “heroic” — which resulted in the recovery of the bodies of Kevin Kershaw, Attia Shaban, Wael Mohammed, Saied Ali Eldin and skipper Michael Hayes.
Mr Hayes’ widow, Caitlin Uí hAodha and their son, Ferdia, also hail the overwhelming support they received during their agonising wait in Union Hall.
Ms Byrne said she hopes it will showcase the vital role played by volunteers involved in search and rescue. “Across the country builders, fisherman, nurses, engineers and doctors give up their spare time to organisations like the RNLI, mountain rescue and the Irish Coast Guard units. They are ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” she said.
* Ireland’s Search and Rescue will be screened on RTÉ One at 6.30pm on Sunday.
Sunday’s hour-long programme will also feature:
* The rescue by Crosshaven RNLI of a Filipino sailor who fell from a tanker and was close to drowning under the pier at Ringaskiddy deepwater terminal in Co Cork.
* The rescue by Howth Coast Guard’s cliff team of Mary McDonnell, two of her children, and their four friends, after her car spun off a road and plunged over a coastal cliff on Portmarnock beach.
* Cork City Fire Brigade’s Blue Watch using cutting equipment to free a man from the wreck of his car after a two-vehicle crash on the South Link Rd.
* Kerry Mountain Rescue saving Carol Hannon, from Castleisland, after she suffered a serious head injury in a 30ft fall at the Heavenly Gates, below Carrauntoohil.