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Complex dive operation resumes to recover body of missing Wexford fisherman Willie Whelan


Willie Whelan

Willie Whelan

Willie Whelan

NAVAL Service and Garda divers resumed a complex dive operation at first light today on the seabed off Hook Head to recover the body of missing Wexford fisherman William 'Willie' Whelan (41) from the wreckage of the trawler Alize.

Dive experts confirmed a body has been spotted by the wrecked 12 metre vessel but recovering the remains is now set to prove a hugely challenging task given the depth involved and the amount of debris scattered around the trawler.

The operation is being led by specialist Naval Service divers who staged numerous dives at the site yesterday.

They are being assisted by members of the Garda Underwater Unit and experienced members of Wexford Sub Aqua Clubs with the Coast Guard providing support on site.

Divers are using the Irish Lights Vessel Granuaile as an operations platform with dives, to date, focused on clearing a path to the interior compartments of the wrecked trawler to allow the remains to be safely accessed and recovered.

Clearance dives continued until being suspended yesterday evening.

Further dives today are planned to prepare for the recovery of the body.

The Naval Service has assigned to LE James Joyce to support the recovery operation.

Mr Whelan and his friend, Joseph 'Joe' Sinnott (65), died when their trawler Alize foundered around 8km off Hook Head on January 4.

Mr Sinnott was located in the sea and recovered a few hours after the sinking but died shortly after being airlifted to University Hospital Waterford (UHW).

The search operation has been hampered by weather conditions off the Wexford coast for the past 20 days.

Recovery officials warned that gaining access to the sunken trawler will prove a very challenging task with dive teams now trying to make the most of a window of reasonable weather conditions.

Special remotely operated underwater vehicles have been used by divers to scan the seabed in the area where the 12 metre trawler Alize foundered.

The search operation has also been supported by the Waterford-based Coast Guard helicopter and the Air Corps CASA marine surveillance aircraft.

The sinking of the Alize was detected when the trawler's Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) suddenly triggered.

A massive air and sea rescue operation was launched and Mr Sinnott was recovered from the sea.

Tragically the father of four died in UHW shortly after being airlifted there. Mr Sinnott's Requiem Mass took place in Kilmore with his son, Michael, saying "the spirit" of his father was now trying to guide the recovery operation for his great friend, Willie Whelan.

Mr Whelan, who is from Fethard-on-Sea, only got married five months ago.

Both men were vastly experienced fishermen and great friends.

They were scallop fishing on the 12 metre trawler when it suddenly sank off Hook Head.

Online Editors