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Sunday 22 September 2019

'I'm still shaking with relief and joy' - wife tells of windsurfer's miraculous sea voyage

Back on dry land: Windsurfer Lorenzo Cubeddu, pictured with his wife Amanda, spent seven hours lost at sea drifting around the west coast of Ireland
Back on dry land: Windsurfer Lorenzo Cubeddu, pictured with his wife Amanda, spent seven hours lost at sea drifting around the west coast of Ireland
Back on dry land: Windsurfer Lorenzo Cubeddu spent seven hours lost at sea drifting around the west coast of Ireland
Ian Begley

Ian Begley

A windsurfer who spent a treacherous seven hours lost at sea put his life in God's hands as he drifted 40km around the west coast of Ireland.

Lorenzo Cubeddu (59), from Inch East, Co Kerry, was reported missing off Ballybunion on Sunday after he was last seen at 3.30pm by a local fisherman.

The alarm was raised when he failed to return to shore, and a major multi-agency search and rescue operation ensued.

But it wasn't until 11pm when his wife Amanda received the incredible news that her husband was alive and well in Kilkee, Co Clare.

However, it was his own survival skills that saved his life after Mr Cubeddu leapt from his surfboard onto the jagged cliffs in Kilkee.

He then wandered in the dark until he came across a mobile home, whose occupier alerted the authorities of his whereabouts.

The lucky watersport enthusiast who works in SuperValu, Ballybunion, was then transported to University Hospital Limerick, where he is now being treated for dehydration.

In an emotional interview, Ms Cubeddu described the details of her husband's perilous ordeal during what she described as "the worst seven hours of my life".

"I'm still shaking with relief and joy," she said.

"Lorenzo has been windsurfing for over 30 years and nothing like this has ever happened before.

"He's always so careful, but his nightmare began once the wind around Ballybunion suddenly dropped - leaving him unable to return to the shore.

"It was pitch black and there was nothing around him but water so he ditched his sail as it was no use to him anymore.

"He then lay down and hoped the current would take him back to shore, but instead he drifted farther and farther away.

"At one stage, the rescue helicopter passed by but failed to see him. It was at this stage that Lorenzo knew his life was in God's hands.

"He then said to himself 'God, please use your power to save me'. He then felt his presence and was perfectly at peace."

Hours then passed and he felt himself being pushed close to a cliff. He knew that leaping from his board onto the jagged rocked was the only way to shore so he took a chance that could have cost him his life.

Using all the strength he had left, the 59-year-old Italian national climbed to the top of the cliff in Kilkee and found himself in the middle of nowhere.

"He began to wander the fields and felt hypothermia kicking in. At one stage, he got an electric shock trying to climb a fence and wondered if he was better off back in the sea," said Ms Cubeddu.

"But in the distance, he spotted the light of a mobile home and made his way to it in his weakened state. An old man answered and was in shock by the sight of him, but soon realised that he needed immediate help.

"He then alerted the authorities, who arrived at the scene in no time at all."

A local fisherman, who talked to Lorenzo before he took off, grew concerned once he lost sight of him and rang his boss at SuperValu, who then alerted the Coast Guard.

The Shannon-based search and rescue helicopter, Rescue 115, was tasked to the scene along with the Ballybunion unit of the Irish Coast Guard and Kilrush RNLI.

The Fenit RNLI lifeboat was also sent to the area while the Irish Naval vessel LÉ Niamh, which was in the area at the time, was also requested to assist in the search.

"Once I received the news (that he was missing) it was like the entire world closed in on me," added Ms Cubeddu.

"The only thing I could do was pray that he would be found."

Ms Cubeddu said she never gave up hope, but when two gardaí arrived at her friend's home she braced herself for the worst news imaginable.

"When they told me that Lorenzo was found safe and well I just couldn't believe it and cried with joy - there was a huge celebration among all those that participated in the rescue.

"Even one of the guards was crying.

"I immediately made my way to University Hospital in Limerick and when I saw him lying there I embraced him and realised that we received a miracle.

"He's in good condition and is undergoing a series of tests and treatments for dehydration.

"He should be back to his old self in no time.

"This experience has changed our lives forever.

"I don't know if I'll ever like to see him windsurf again, but I'll worry about that another day.

"I have so many people to thank, including those that participated in the rescue and the fisherman who alerted Lorenzo's boss of his disappearance.

"Cormac and Elaine Cahill, who are the proprietors at SuperValu in Ballybunion, were amazing to me during the search. They really helped to comfort me and it was through their constant support and reassurance that kept me going," she added.

Irish Independent

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