'It's better than a lottery win' - dad of surfer rescued after 32 hours in Irish Sea
The father of a Scottish man plucked to safety from the Irish Sea after 32 hours lost at sea on a surfboard has said getting the news of his rescue was "better than a lottery win".
And Northern Ireland’s top surfer Al Mennie described the rescue of 22 year-old Glasgow man Matthew Bryce as “miraculous”.
After 32 hours alone and adrift at sea, Matthew’s father John Bryce had doubted he would see his son alive again.
The ecstatic dad expressed his gratitude to his son’s rescuers.
"The past 48 hours have been an absolute rollercoaster of emotions for our family and we are so grateful that Matthew has been found safe and well," said John.
"To get that call from the police to say that he was alive was unbelievable. It was better than a lottery win — you just can’t describe it.
"Matthew means the world to us; he is such a strong character both mentally and physically, and we are looking forward to being reunited with him. We’ve managed to speak to him briefly on the phone and he is obviously exhausted after his ordeal, but he is in good spirits and happy to be alive.
"Our family cannot thank the Coastguard, RNLI volunteers and police officers involved in finding Matthew enough.
"I would also like to thank our friends and family as well as the hundreds of people who offered their support on social media.
"We have been overwhelmed by your support and good wishes and we will be forever grateful to every single one of you."
Mr Bryce went surfing at Machrihanish beach off the Argyll coast on Sunday morning, entering the water at 11.30am. After he was reported missing, Belfast Coastguard co-ordinated a sea and shoreline search.
The massive operation involved RNLI lifeboats from Campbeltown, Islay and Red Bay, the Prestwick Coastguard rescue helicopter and Coastguard rescue teams from Campbeltown, Southend, Gigha, Tarbert and Port Ellen.
With hopes fading and night approaching, Matthew was finally spotted clinging to his surfboard 13 miles from land by a Coastguard helicopter at 7.30pm on Monday.
Dramatic footage of the rescue taken from the Coastguard helicopter shows Matthew being winched to safety as the surfboard he clung to drifts away on the tide below.
The surfer was conscious but hypothermic when found, and is now recovering from his ordeal at the Ulster Hospital. His thick neoprene wetsuit is thought to have been a key factor in allowing him to survive for so long in the cold water.
Mr Bryce said yesterday he was exhausted as he paid tribute to his rescuers from a hospital bed.
"I am so grateful that I am now receiving treatment in hospital," he said
"I cannot thank those enough who rescued and cared for me, they are all heroes."
Portrush professional surfer Mennie, who has crossed the world in search of monster waves to conquer, knows first-hand the challenges Matthew faced.
In 2012, Al paddled across the Irish Sea on a similar route to raise money for Chest, Heart and Stroke NI. He stressed that the journey proved treacherous, even with training.
"Matthew is very lucky to have survived; I have never heard of anyone around here who has survived being in the water for that long," said Mennie. “The tides between here and Scotland are notorious all over the world for how dangerous they are.
"I don’t know Matthew, but I’m sure he was petrified. There have been very strong south-easterly winds for the last few days, and he will have been going back and forward on the tide. When I crossed that stretch, it was in very similar conditions, with no surf and very little winds, and it was still very, very difficult, even with training.
"As soon as I heard where he had gone from, I had a fair idea of the path of the tide. I’m not surprised they found him — I’m surprised he survived."
Al believes that surviving in such situations is something which cannot be taught, but must be learned through experience.
"Matthew knew to stay on his surfboard, which kept him out of the water, and if he was in a compact ball that would have helped him to retain body heat," he explained.
"I also heard he was wearing a good, thick wetsuit, which was an advantage. Staying calm and hoping someone will come is another key element. Mental strength is as key to survival as the physical aspect."
Since Matthew’s rescue, Al has published safety tips on his website in the hope of preventing future tragedies.
"It’s very important that you know which way the wind is blowing and have an emergency plan," he said.
"At this time of year, places like Portrush get very busy, and a lot of people come who don’t know much about the area. They put their safety in the hands of lifeguards and coastguards, but everyone should take responsibility for their own safety.
"A lot of people who are rescued are panicking in 10 minutes. Matthew sustained himself for more than 30 hours. Thankfully, this guy was rescued and survived and this warning is not a fatality."
Alex Smith, Belfast Coastguard’s maritime operations controller, agreed that Matthew had been "very lucky" and that it was "unusual" to recover someone alive from the sea after that amount of time.
"I would suggest that when people go out surfing they do so in pairs, so that someone can raise the alarm or get help," he said.
"When Matthew is recovered we would love to hear from him, and if he wants to come in, the kettle’s on."