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Thursday 27 July 2017

Survivor made final desperate efforts to save his best friends

Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

AN angler who survived the boat tragedy in which his three best friends were killed made desperate efforts to save them, it emerged yesterday.

Edward 'Ed' Dziato (46) tried to extinguish a fire on the motor-cruiser 'Castaway' and then battled to save his three friends from drowning. "He tried to save them all," his wife Judy said yesterday.

The fire is believed to have sparked a violent explosion on board the 25ft-long craft which later sank during the deep sea fishing trip.

The four were winched out of the sea by the Coast Guard's Waterford-based Sikorsky helicopter shortly before 6pm on Monday. But Wolfgang 'Mike' Schmidt (64), Richard Harman (69) and Wolfgang 'Ziggi' Schroder (60) were pronounced dead once they were brought ashore.

Mr Harman -- a native of Adrigole in west Cork -- was due to celebrate his 70th birthday next week. Mr Schmidt moved to Ireland almost 20 years ago from Germany and was a former Merchant Marine captain and experienced sailor.

Mr Schroder moved to Ireland less than a decade ago from Germany and, unlike the other two deceased who lived in Glengarriff, lived at Saskia outside Bantry.

Mr Dziato was airlifted to hospital but was discharged yesterday morning after being treated for minor injuries, mild hypothermia and shock.

Last night, Mr Dziato's wife Judy appealed for privacy to allow him to deal with the appalling trauma of losing three of his best friends.

"My husband is devastated," she said from the family's Glengarriff home. "It is not easy for him -- he has lost his best friends. He tried to save them all. I am (just) relieved he is alive," she said.

Inspectors

Mr Dziato -- who moved from Connecticut in the US to west Cork four years ago -- has been assisting gardai and Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) inspectors to piece together precisely what caused the tragedy.

The Irish Coast Guard pilot who led the rescue, Captain Dara Fitzpatrick, said it was a miracle that anyone had survived the tragedy.

"We were very lucky that we were in the area quite close to the call. That is normally Shannon's patch," the chief pilot explained.

"Even the guy that did survive, even though the (RNLI) lifeboat was en route, he didn't have a lot of time. He was struggling so we were very, very lucky to be in the area," she added.

A decision on whether the 'Castaway' should be raised from the sea bed will not be taken by the MCIB for some time.

The vessel -- which was normally berthed at the Bere Island marina -- sank after blazing fiercely off the Roancarriag Lighthouse, some 4km from shore.

The alert was raised when a person on the shore became concerned at what they thought were flames and smoke coming from a vessel on the horizon -- and immediately rang 999.

All four men had left Bere Island on Monday morning to enjoy a day's deep-sea fishing. The fire is believed to have erupted on the boat after 5pm, but the anglers were somehow unable to issue a 'Mayday' alert.

Rescue officials fear that the fire spread so fast that they were unable to access either the radio or emergency flares on board.

Efforts to fight the fire failed and it is believed the vessel then suffered a major explosion -- possibly from the fuel tanks breaching or a propane gas cylinder exploding.

The bodies of the dead Irishman and two Germans were transferred to Cork University Hospital yesterday where full post-mortem examinations began last night.

Contrary to initial indications, it is not believed that any of the men died as a direct result of the fire or explosion.

Detailed toxicology tests have also been ordered and, it is understood, a precise cause of death may not be known for all three men for several weeks.

West Cork gardai had a preliminary interview with Mr Dziato yesterday about the precise circumstances of the accident.

Funeral arrangements for the three victims are expected to be confirmed later today.

Irish Independent

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