By David Raleigh
A father of five who went into "Bear Grylls mode" during an "adventure" in the wood, but ended up being rescued by the Coast Guard helicopter, has admitted it was foolish to go off the public path.
The Limerick family's adventure ended up being a gruelling cross-country escape through a seemingly never-ending maze of trees, streams and thick hedge growth.
The relieved dad went online to publicly thank the emergency services who helped find him and his family after their ordeal in Cratloe Woods, Co Clare on Monday night.
He admitted he had followed his young daughter who went "off track" in the middle of the dense wood, located about 10km from Limerick city.
The Coast Guard rescue chopper found the children, aged four, seven and 10, and their parents shortly after midnight -- five hours after they had set out on their trek.
The family had been scouring the woodland in the cold and rain for an exit point and eventually managed to let the Coast Guard know where they were through a GPS mobile phone signal.
"I knew my location…You couldn't just walk out of where we were. I accept the foolishness of going off track in this manner," the father said in an Internet posting.
He added: "Lessons were learned.
"To get to where we were we had crossed several streams and climbed under barbed wire and over ridges. We lost our way back and we were hemmed in by thick bushes of gorse and brier and no visibility of a way out.
"We waded into the stream but that was blocked at both ends. We were tired and wet. It was getting dark and with the little battery I had left on my phone I raised the alarm."
He said the rescue chopper "circled overhead for about 45 minutes but they couldn't even find us with a searchlight and infrared".
He added: "My phone died but I was able to ping them my location just before this. Thank God for the coastguard team on the ground and thanks to them my family and I are all safe and well."
A major search operation swing into action once the family made contact with the emergency services.
A garda source said: "The family went missing at the Limerick side of the Cratloe Woods. They became disorientated. At around 9.10pm they rang 999.
"The family were put through to Shannon gardaí, who in turn contacted the Valentina Coast Guard, who then contacted the Coast Guard rescue helicopter.
"There was a major search involving the Shannon-based Coast Guard and then Killaloe Coast Guard, and Gardai from Limerick and Clare helped in the response. Thankfully the family were found a short time later."
Responding to people online criticising the family's decision to go wandering in the woods, the dad replied: "I made the call…Perhaps we were idiots, or rather level that accusation at me when I followed my child off track and went on a little adventure.
"We went "off piste" quite a bit and we found ourselves in a "no man's land" hemmed in by streams and thick bushes of gorse and briar. I had my three children with me (and) night was coming. You would have done the same in my position and raised the alarm."
The family's dire situation only worsened when the man's mobile phone's battery died and they couldn't contact the helicopter circling above them.
"My phone died and the helicopter couldn't find us," he said. "Very grateful to the rescue crew they were brilliant, they said I did the right thing to raise the alarm.."
He said the family set out at 6.45pm on what was to be an innocent family trek, but it was midnight before they were eventually found, sodden and downtrodden.
"(We started out) at 6.45pm," said the father. "It was dry (then). We just intended to take a small walk entering Cratloe woods at the Meelick entrance. We walked down a seldom trodden trail to visit an area known locally - to Limerick kids anyway - as the Sand Dunes.
"My little girl just went walkabout under the trees and we stupidly got into Bear Grylls mode going cross country up and under several obstacles."
Gardaí have issued a warning to the public not to get into similar situations.
A senior Clare garda said: "This case is an unusual one but what I would say to people is that, if you're going someplace you're not familiar with, stick to the normal pathways.
"As was the case in this scenario, it's always good to have a mobile phone with you, and make sure it's charged."
"Having a mobile can help you contact the emergency services and you can also help them pin point your location."