The families of two men feared drowned when they vanished while fishing were tonight anxiously waiting for news on their loved ones.
The men, named locally as father-of-four John O’Brien and friend Pat Esmonde, disappeared during a fishing trip off the Waterford coast.
As concerned relatives gathered at Helvick harbour, near Dungarvan, a full-scale search operation involving the navy, coastguard and RNLI continued throughout the day.
Mr O’Brien’s uncle, Sean Dunphy, said the family was devastated and “waiting to see him walk out of the water”.
Mr O’Brien, 37, from Waterford, and father-of-one Mr Esmonde, 36, from South Tipperary, went out to sea in a dinghy yesterday in near-flat calm conditions.
The alarm was raised at about 5pm when a fisherman heard one of the men shouting and saw him in the water.
When he got to the dinghy neither could be seen.
The small inflatable rib – which did not overturn – was recovered with two lifejackets and fishing equipment found in it.
A full-scale search operation co-ordinated by the naval vessel, the Le Orla, involved naval search teams, Helvick RNLI, coastguard helicopter and the Casa maritime patrol aircraft.
Nine navy divers were also searching an area 24 metres deep.
Local councillor Tom Cronin described the incident as a tragic freak accident.
“It appears that one may have fallen in and the other fell in after him, there’s no other explanation, it’s awful,” he said.
“It was a very calm day. It’s a pure tragedy. You just can’t take the water for granted for one second. If they had their lifejackets on them they would have survived.”
Junior minister Sean Connick said the tragedy was an unfortunate reminder of the dangers of the sea.
“I am only too aware of the pain and suffering that is caused to the families and our coastal communities as a result of accidents at sea,” said Mr Connick, as he launched a scheme to financially support fishermen in upgrading critical lifesaving, firefighting and safety equipment.
“It is imperative that we do all in our power to prevent further accidents and especially casualties and one of these preventative measures includes ensuring our fishing fleet is operating to the best safety standards.”
Mr Dunphy described his nephew as a lovely, quiet man.
“A bit hyper but nothing wild, nothing bad about him,” he continued. “He used to be tinkering away, fixing up old cars at home for himself, he had a Morris Minor there he was doing up. That was his pride and joy really.”