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Monday 19 August 2019

Heroic tourists swim for 40 minutes to rescue girl (5) swept a mile out to sea on inflatable toy

Lifesavers: Alex Thomson (24) and brothers Declan (18), Walter (21) and Eoghan Butler (18) sprang into action when they heard a call for help on Portmarnock beach. Picture: Frank McGrath
Lifesavers: Alex Thomson (24) and brothers Declan (18), Walter (21) and Eoghan Butler (18) sprang into action when they heard a call for help on Portmarnock beach. Picture: Frank McGrath

Aoife Walsh

A group of young American men swam for 40 minutes to save a five-year-old girl who was swept away from Portmarnock beach.

Walter Butler (21), his brothers Eoghan (18) and Declan (18), and brother-in-law Alex Thomson (24) all came to the aid of the young girl who was floating on an inflatable toy.

The four men, who are tourists from Virginia, had just entered the water on Monday afternoon when they heard a voice calling out for a lifeguard.

The group then noticed a young girl on a "pink flamingo floaty screaming for help" as the current dragged her away from the shoreline.

Walter, a health services technician for the United States coast guard, decided to stay on the beach while the others swam out to the distressed youngster.

"As we swam out I realised that if this girl needs to be revived or needs any medical attention I need to be in my best shape to provide first aid," Walter said.

"You could see the brave little girl fighting for her life. She was doing everything she could to stay alive. Luckily, she gave it her all and Eoghan had enough time to grab her."

Declan and Alex also reached the girl and helped Eoghan to bring her back to shore.

At this stage, the current had taken her a mile out to sea, he said, and they took it in turns swimming with the girl. The rescue took about 40 minutes.

The girl was said to be a "nervous wreck" by the time Eoghan reached her.

As the commotion and stress grew around the men, Alex thought of the baby girl he and his partner are expecting in October. "The main thing I was thinking about was we couldn't lose that little girl. I'm expecting a daughter in October, and was empathising with the father's fear," he said.

"I just couldn't imagine the pain he and the family would have felt had she gone under.

"I'm feeling good now. I slept well knowing the girl was safe at home."

Declan said he was "grateful" that the group decided to go to the beach to "help that unfortunate girl out", adding: "I'm so glad that she has the chance to see life now, and hope she can truly enjoy it."

Here are Irish Water Safety's top tips for keeping safe in the water:

Inexperienced swimmers should swim "within their depth"

"The main message is to swim within your depth, stay within your depth and swim parallel to the shore. Then if you do feel sick or unwell or dizzy, you can just drop your feet and wade back onto the bank," said John Leech, CEO of Irish Water Safety.

Swim in designated swimming areas

"As much as possible, swim in designated bathing areas, like for instance Salthill where they can dive and jump off the boards where they're being looked after carefully by lifeguards that are trained up to the best international practice. 

"Then, thing don’t tend to go wrong. It's when they go off on their own unsupervised is when the trouble starts and unfortunately, they're out of their depth."

Wear a life jacket

"We want people going kayaking, sailing and angling particularly to wear a life jacket. It's really important to wear a life jacket no matter what you're doing. 

"Although it can be sometimes quite hot and sometimes people feel a little uncomfortable when it gets very hot especially in the midlands, but please leave your life jacket on.

"Your body will be very hot and susceptible to cold shock. Cold shock is the main contributing factor to drownings in our temperate climate."

Keep paddling pools supervised at all times

"We're very much against paddling pools because unfortunately parents have the best will in the world, may have a drink or a barbecue, and the phone rings or whatever and they get distracted.

"Young children drown in seconds, 20-40 seconds they'll be gone. Drowning is silent, so you won't hear them." 

Avoid inflatables 

"Don't use inflatable toys, they're absolutely lethal. I see them for sale in local supermarkets. The coast guard often rescue people out in Donegal bay, miles off shore, sitting in these inflatables because they've gotten blown away with off shore winds."

Irish Independent

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