Couple's miracle escape as friend dies in sea tragedy
TWO British pensioners had a miraculous escape after a freak sailing accident which claimed the life of their friend off west Cork.
The man and woman, aged 75 and 67, survived more than two hours in the freezing waters of Roaringwater Bay before making a 200m swim to a rocky island and then climbing up a steep cliff face to safety.
They were named locally as Patrick Anwill (75) and Marian Brown (67). They were rescued almost 10 hours after the alarm was first raised when Schull search volunteers heard faint cries for help at 6am yesterday coming from the isolated island.
Tragically, their friend, named locally as British man Douglas Perrin (66), died after apparently opting to remain near the capsized boat.
Mr Perrin, who had a holiday home outside Schull, was wearing a life-jacket but is suspected to have succumbed to hypothermia.
A post-mortem examination was scheduled to be carried out last night.
His body was recovered from the sea at 8am yesterday following a major 12-hour search operation by the Irish Coastguard, RNLI and Naval Service.
Mr Perrin was very involved in the Church of Ireland in west Cork and was a keen sailor.
Friends were last night comforting his wife, Judith, who raised the alarm after they failed to return to harbour on Wednesday night.
Baltimore RNLI coxswain Kieran Cotter said the tragedy occurred despite the experienced sailors taking every possible safety precaution.
He said the two survivors were spotted huddled on Castle Island by rescuers who heard faint cries for help.
"Immediately, Schull Rescue landed two people and they went to their aid. Then the Baltimore inshore boat went there as well and they comforted them and brought them for medical treatment."
"They told us that there was a third man missing. The (Irish Coastguard) helicopter airlifted them to the Ilen Rovers football pitch in Baltimore and they were taken to Bantry General Hospital for assessment."
"They were very cold after being out all night and very upset knowing that the third person was still missing."
"They apparently stayed with the boat for some time after it possibly capsized in a gust of wind. But then, when they saw they were close to land, they swam to shore. The third person, for one reason or another, did not make it."
Rescue officials said it was "absolutely astonishing" that the elderly couple managed to make it ashore and then climb a steep cliff to reach relative safety.
"It was a long, cold night for them. But they had done everything right. When they went out, they told people they would be back (in port) at a certain time and the alarm was raised as a result. And they were all wearing life-jackets which meant when they went into the water they stayed afloat," Mr Cotter said.
The trio had gone for a sail around Long Island and were due to meet friends for dinner between 7pm and 8pm on Wednesday. When the trio failed to arrive, Mr Perrin's wife raised the alarm.
It is feared the seven metre craft, a twin-masted Drascombe Lugger or traditional-type of open coastal boat, was caught in a sudden squall and capsized.
Sailing instructor Eddie English, who was also off the west Cork coast on Wednesday, said gusts reached up to 20 knots in some areas with conditions "very challenging."
A Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) investigation into the tragedy is under way.