Exclusive: 'I’m so happy. I had given up' – father of rescued paddle boarder on moment cousins found alive off Galway coast

One of the two women rescued in Galway Bay wave as they taken off the Coast Guard helicopter at UCHG. Photograph by Aengus McMahon

Eavan Murray, Gabija Gataveckaite and Lorna Siggins

JOHNNY Glynn raised his arms to heaven and wailed "They're alive".

Racing along the beach to his wife and young daughter, Glynn dropped momentarily to his knees in killing relief.

The ecstatic father of a teenage girl Ellen Glynn (17) who with her cousin Sara Feeney (23) was found alive after being swept 17 miles out to sea in brutal conditions said he would "be forever grateful".

Johnny and Deirdre Glynn after their daughter Ellen and her cousin Sara were rescued after 15 hours stranded at sea Photo: Hany Marzouk

"I'm so happy. I had given up. How could they be in the water from 9.30?

"I wasn't expecting to find them alive at this stage. We're so happy. We're forever grateful."

A widescale search by the coastguard and the RNLI failed to find any trace of the girls or their paddleboards.

From first light family members and friends of the girls gathered together on Furbo beach.

The Glynn and the Feeney families delighted to see their daughters Ellen (17) and Sara (23) landing safely at the helipad at the Galway University Hospital Photo: Hany Marzouk

As the hours ticked by hopes began to fade, and silence gripped the assembled crowd, all staring unblinking at the grey seascape.

Shortly after noon, texts started to trigger panic with false news that two bodies had been recovered.

Just as hopes were fading a call came through to Johnny Glynn, shortly after 12.30pm that both girls were alive and found three miles off Inis Oirr.

Desperation and fear gave way to unbridled joy.

One of the women who was rescued of the Aran islands being brought to Galway University Hospital. Ray Ryan.

Family members, friends, volunteers and strangers began cheering, weeping and clapping.

Johnny and his wife Deirdre swept their young daughter Alice (12) into their arms.

The girl's aunt Breda Feeney, who had stood at the shore, all night wept with joy.

"It has just been an unbelievable night. We have never been so afraid in all of our lives.

One of the two women rescued in Galway Bay as they are taken off the Coast Guard helicopter at UCHG. Photograph by Aengus McMahon

"All of us worried and at the same time hopeful. But knowing the two girls, they are very strong and resilient.

"They hung on, and we just can't believe it," she said.

Breda recalls the moment she heard her nieces were missing.

13/08/2020 Searching was call off after the 2 missing girls were found south of Inis Oir off the shore of Co. Galway after being missing while out ÒSUPÓing . Photo:Andrew Downes

"Ellen's dad rang me to say they were missing, and they were gone about an hour at that stage.

"We came down here to the beach (Furbo), and we watched the Coastguard helicopter and then the boats all night.

"It was about 3am when the first helicopter left to refuel and the second helicopter from Sligo came for a few hours.

"The weather got really bad. It started raining very heavily, and I suppose we kept thinking they were going to be found any minute. It was hard.

"Then it got light around 5.30 am. There were loads of people already combing, searching the coast. People in Clare and Galway out searching they were amazing.

"We are forever indebted," said Breda.

Minutes before it was confirmed the girls were alive Breda was told two bodies had been recovered in the search for the girls.

"At first somebody said there were two bodies recovered, and it sounded very bad, but we were still calm and saying we didn't believe it.

"And then a guy from the RNLI heard on his radio that they had been found alive.

"Then we could see Ellen's dad coming through the beach jumping for joy.

"Ellen and Sara were both alive and going to be fine.

"We are just overjoyed. We don't know how we are - it's all unreal," she said.

The girls were discovered in the water clinging to lobster pots.

Both girls are receiving emergency treatment and have been transferred to University Hospital Galway.

The women were wearing buoyancy aids but they had no wetsuits on and sea conditions were calm at the time.

Local fisherman Patrick Oliver, also a shoremember of the Galway Lifeboat Station in Galway City, pulled the two women off the lobster pot.

According to Barry Heskin of the RNLI, speaking on RTÉ News at One, the two women were found about 27km (17 miles) from where they set off paddleboarding last night.

He said there were jumps for joy once the news came in that the two women had been found.

"Jumping around the station here, I can tell ya. There was a few tears shed and a few yahoops going on," he said.

"We'll be celebrating for the rest of the day, that's for certain."

He said that the two inflatable paddleboarders were at sea for 15 hours.

"They endured the dark night and it was very dark here in Galway. I'm sure they were very scared.

"[The search] commenced at 10 o'clock last night and we're still in the station. It started off with ourselves being launched initially, because they presumed that the people had gone off the shore and would be found fairly quickly, but more resources were tasked into the scene.

"And then we brought in the Coastguards, the Civil Defences and the helicopter services. Once light broke early this morning, we brought in An Garda Siochana, the Civil Defence, the local flying club and then there was a big resource from all the volunteers locally who had boats."

He said that it is a credit to the community that rallied to help find the women.

"The amount of people in the water and the amount of phone calls we got since 6am is absolutely phenomenal and it's testament to the people in north Clare and Galway that we ended up with this result.

"Once we had so much people, on the water, we could allocate them to different locations and then we could spread our more resources further afield to locations we might not have got to."

John Draper, Divisional Controller from the Valencia Coastguard also told RTÉ that they were very lucky to survive in the water for so long without wetsuits and only wearing swimsuits.

"They were able to keep afloat on the paddleboards overnight, and that was certainly a factor. Challenging though, the conditions were reasonably warm, the sea water was about 15 degrees but if they had been submersed in the water, that would have been possibly a different story."

"The fact that possibly the force three in the north easterly [wind] would have brought them in that direction but over a very long period of time, they obviously if they had communications or or if they had a flashlight or anything to attract attention, certainly would have narrowed down the search."

"I think the fact that they were above on the surboard certainly helped a lot, cold water emerging over that period of time, if you're just in your swimming togs, with a life preserver on, the survival charts would say, 13 to 14 hours, maybe 12 to 14 hours and then you may double that your search efforts in that time, 24 hours. You'll be very lucky if someone was to last that long in their swimming togs, even at that temperature."

He said that the two women are shook and very cold, but believes they will be okay.

"We're very lucky to keep the search going throughout the whole night.

"It was a great search effort all around."