A HIKER who plunged half-way down Europe's tallest sea cliffs has thanked his rescuers for saving him and admitted: "I'm lucky to be alive."
Cormac Nolan (28) slipped and fell 300 metres down Slieve League in south-west Donegal while out for a walk on New Year's Day. It took more than 50 rescuers over 12 hours to bring him to safety.
He was discharged from Sligo General Hospital yesterday morning and drove home to Ballon, Co Carlow, where he runs a tyre business.
"I had been to the top of Slieve League and on my way down I slipped in the wrong place and ended up on a ledge beside rocks. When helicopter rescuers saw me, I was told, they reckoned I must have fallen about 350 metres," said Cormac.
"The only reason I was okay in the end was it wasn't one big fall. I was about 50 metres up from the sea when I slithered on to a ledge that saved me from falling the rest of the way.
"I was grasping with my bare hands and they were getting caught as I was trying to stop the fall. I was moving quite quickly and I didn't have anything to hang on to. The whole thing felt like it lasted a couple of minutes but it must have been quicker.
"I was slipping and sliding all the way down, unable to hold on to anything with my bare hands to stop the fall until suddenly I was on a ledge.
"It was actually quite big, about 10ft square, but it was sloping and the only part of it that was not wet and slippy was where I was sitting. When I felt I had to stretch my legs to keep the circulation going, the best I could do to avoid spreading them out beyond the dry part was to wiggle my toes.
"Although I am a bit messed up now, I didn't have any major impact when I slid to a stop. But honest to God, it was a miracle. When I looked back up, I wondered how on Earth I survived."
He said he was in shock for some minutes after his fall but realised he needed help. He phoned a brother and a friend before calling the Coast Guard.
Cormac said he wanted to thank all those involved in his rescue, including Donegal Mountain Rescue Team, Slieve League Mountain Rescue Team, the Arranmore Lifeboat, Killybegs Coast Guard, gardai, paramedics, a doctor and a local priest.
"It was an extremely long and difficult rescue effort. It must have taken a lot of teamwork and co-ordination to pull it off.
"A lot of people risked their own lives in order to save mine.
"Without the presence of all these teams, I might not have made it. My family and I are so grateful to everyone."
His sister Brigid said: "The rescuers are heroes. They do an incredible job and I want to thank every one of them so much for what they have done."
Irish Coast Guard director Chris Reynolds praised the rescue teams.
"Last year was the busiest ever for the Irish Coast Guard and already in the early days of 2013 we have provided assistance in a number of incidents," he said.
"I am appealing again to the public that they heed local advice and be aware of weather conditions if walking or hiking along our coastline, particularly during winter."