A KAYAKER was hailed a hero for helping save three young men from drowning after a short sea excursion in glorious sunshine almost ended in tragedy.
Mark O'Mahony (51) heard cries coming from the sea off Ballydehob in west Cork and raced to get his kayak into the water to go to the men's aid.
Incredibly, Mr O'Mahony defied a broken paddle, strong tides and gusting winds to reach the men and help them stay afloat until the Baltimore RNLI lifeboat reached the scene.
The three men, all unnamed and in their 20s, had to swim to Horse Island off Audley Cove after their small vessel sank at 5pm on Wednesday.
They then decided to try to swim the 1.5km to shore, instead of waiting for help.
Because of swirling currents, they couldn't reach the shore and suddenly began to grow weak in the freezing waters.
"I was out swimming in the sunshine when suddenly we heard cries coming from out to sea," Mr O'Mahony said.
"I heard someone shout, 'Conor! Help!' so I went up on to the rocks and tried to scan to see if I could spot anyone,
"I saw a small splash about a kilometre out off of Horse Island, so I assumed people were in the water. I got into the kayak but I only had a broken paddle, so I was struggling to get out."
Mr O'Mahony had shouted to his wife, Terry, to raise the alarm and within 15 minutes of heading to sea, he had reached the first young man.
He said: "I found the first guy and he was trying to swim to shore. He was about 200m from the other two, who were further out. I asked him could he tread water for a while, but he said he was too tired."
Mr O'Mahony got the young man to hold on to the kayak and then managed to reach the other two, who were in desperate trouble. One young man's head kept slipping beneath the water as his friend struggled to keep him afloat.
He continued: "I was making very slow progress to shore. As I was paddling, two lifeboats passed me and I pointed them in the direction where the other two men were."
Baltimore RNLI official Michael Cottrell said the three young men owed their lives to Mr O'Mahony and his wife.
He said: "He should take a lot of the credit. He made a great effort to help and surely saved their lives. Those lads owe him a lot."
None of the three young men was wearing a lifejacket and the RNLI said the craft that foundered was not suitable for island-hopping at sea.
The trio were transferred by Irish Coastguard helicopter to Cork University Hospital, where one of them was initially in a critical condition before he stabilised. He was being treated for water ingestion and hypothermia. The other two were treated for hypothermia but are expected to make a full recovery.