THREE friends who pulled a dying boy to safety with their bare hands and a man who saved his own parents from drowning were among the heroes honoured at the annual Irish Water Safety Awards (IWSA).
The Irish Independent was also recognised with a national media appreciation award for its efforts in highlighting water-safety issues.
The reporting by the Irish Independent and other media outlets was credited with helping to bring down the average number of drownings this year from 140 to 128, along with the dramatic efforts of rescuers and the work of volunteers teaching swimming and rescue skills.
Among the 26 rescuers to receive a 'SEIKO Just in Time Rescue Award' were three friends who weren't supposed to be on a beach that day but took a day off because the weather was so beautiful.
That chance decision probably saved nine-year-old Calum Fenton's life after he became buried in sand when a dune collapsed on him.
Arthur Muizininks from Latvia, Dmitry Agurazov from Azerbaijan and Norman Kudla from Lithuania were joined in their frantic efforts to dig out the boy by local friends. Those friends, Beverly Dunne and Lorraine Hann, were just about to leave Brittas Bay, Co Wicklow, on August 10 this year when the incident occurred.
Mr Muizininks said that at first he doubted there was a boy underneath the sand but Calum's friend begged him to dig. "You could read in his eyes that he was telling the truth," Mr Muizininks said.
After desperate minutes of digging, Calum was pulled out. He was blue from lack of oxygen but he rapidly recovered.
Another award went to Karl Fitzgerald, (28), from Sandyford, Dublin, who was nearly orphaned when his parents Pauline and Michael got caught in a treacherous current at Chimney Cove, Cork, on August 25.
Karl and his cousin Michael Bailey jumped into the waves and held on to the couple, swimming with the current until they got to a safe cove further along the coast.
"He is my hero," Karl's proud mother Pauline said.
Another rescuer – Jason McClay from Kinnego, Co Donegal, scrambled down a steep 12-metre ravine near Buncrana and rescued two people trapped in a car which was sinking fast in a river on June 2 of this year.
He swam to the car in the pitch dark and felt inside the broken side window, before dragging two struggling passengers to safety.
At the ceremony, chairwoman of the IWSA Breda Collins said that while it was rewarding to see the average of drownings fall, the "great challenge" was to tackle the high number of drownings by suicide which make up 46pc off all drownings.
To this end, the IWSA has formed a partnership with Pieta House to raise awareness of the issue, she said.