THE body of a missing tourist was airlifted by helicopter from an isolated inlet beneath steep cliffs as the search continued for his friend.
It is thought one apparently went to help the other when they were hit by freak storm weather as they walked along the exposed coastline in west Cork.
The two men – named locally as Dutch national Roland Decker (32) and his 31-year-old German friend – flew into Cork Airport last Wednesday from Amsterdam for a brief winter break in Kilcrohane village.
It is understood the two friends had been walking to a lighthouse on a peninsula in the hope of taking photos of the massive waves hitting the shore when tragedy struck.
A major search operation off the Sheep's Head peninsula resulted in one body being recovered at lunchtime yesterday.
Mr Decker's mother owns a holiday property at The Cove, Eskraha, just outside the west Cork village and 100 metres from the shoreline.
At 1pm on Saturday, Mrs Decker was talking to them by telephone and was informed the friends planned to go for a walk along a peninsula to a local lighthouse. It is understood they hoped to take photos of the stormy seas striking rocks by the lighthouse.
The route is nicknamed 'Poet's Path' but, while extremely scenic and popular with walkers and artists, is also very exposed in parts to both the wind and sea.
The Dutch woman was unable to contact her son and his friend on Saturday evening and again on Sunday.
At 10pm on Sunday she became very concerned and asked a local resident to check on the property.
The alarm was raised at 11.30pm when it was discovered that the men weren't present – with their car parked outside and all their possessions inside the house including their identity papers and wallets.
A major search operation was launched involving the Irish Coast Guard, the Navy patrol ship LE Eithne, the Castletownbere RNLI, gardai, the Naval Service, west Cork Coast Rescue and local fishermen.
The search operation was focused on the northern side of the Sheep's Head peninsula and, shortly after 12 noon, searchers spotted a body near an isolated inlet.
Because of the sea conditions and inaccessibility of the inlet, the Sikorsky helicopter had to be used with a winchman recovering the body from a ledge between two sea cliffs.
It was transferred to Bantry at 2.30pm with a full post-mortem examination to be conducted. The body has yet to be identified.
Local shopkeeper Frank O'Mahony said Roland Decker and his family were regular visitors to west Cork. He said Mr Decker and his friend called into the shop to see him last Wednesday but he was out.
"He was a lovely guy – he was in here asking for me last week. They would always stop with something they had brought from Holland for me. The storms here have been unbelievable, it's very hard," he said.
Farmer and neighbour Gerry Daly said the two men had come to Ireland to check on the family's exposed waterfront property. "Roland and a friend of his came for a week, just to check the property I think. I didn't meet him this time. It's so sad that they were probably washed off with the severe storm on Saturday. It was terrible," he said.
Supt Mick Fitzpatrick said the search operation would resume at first light.
"The search is continuing . . . there is still a second male missing and we are awaiting confirmation of identification," he said.
Gardai are now acting on the theory that one or both of the men may have gotten into difficulty with freak waves or gusts of up to 130kph along an exposed part of the path.
When the second man went to his friend's aid, both were swept into the sea.