TWO kayakers were drowned last night after they were trapped at a weir on a river. A third managed to escape and raised the alarm.
But despite a major operation at the weir at Portlaw, on the River Clodagh, a tributary of the Suir, Co Waterford, both men, in their early 20s, lost their lives. The tragedy happened close to the old tannery site in Portlaw.
It is believed the men, both from Co Waterford, may have kayaked from the village of Clonea Power about five miles away.
It is understood they had earlier left the river and had been making their way up a laneway.
But they were frightened by aggressive dogs and decided to return to the river.
The first locals knew of the disaster was around 9.30pm.
Members of the fire service tried to get to the men but could not. The Marine Rescue Coordination Centre in Dublin was alerted. It sent Coast Guard units from Bonmahon and Dunmore East to the scene.
The Dunmore team was about three-quarters of a mile down the river when the first body broke free from the weir around 10pm.
The team managed to pull out the body as it drifted past them.
The body of the second kayaker was trapped at the weir but was impossible to reach by boat.
The Coast Guard S-61 rescue helicopter was then scrambled to try to winch the kayaker out of the river.
But the mission was too dangerous as there were too many electric domestic cables in the area.
Coastguard teams opened the weir enough to release the body and it was finally recovered about 11.30pm.
Jim Griffin of the Dunmore East Coast Guard said they knew "very little" about how the tragedy happened as they were detailed to find the bodies.
"We got a call from the Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre to get here to Portlaw and assist kayakers in trouble," he said.
Seamus Power of the Bonmahon unit said it was difficult for all concerned to see the bodies being taken out of the water.
"It was a tough night," he said.
The units were afraid at one point that the bodies might get carried further along the river.
As dozens of emergency service personnel worked in the darkness, a large crowd watched in silence while waiting for news. Locals said the river can run high and dangerous after a spell of heavy rain, particularly at a water intake area which has a fish pass.
Supt Jeremiah Lynch of Tramore garda station said it was "a terrible tragedy" for two young men to lose their lives.
"There can be some difficult currents at that particular spot," he said.
Local councillor Brendan Coffey said it was unclear what exactly happened to the two men.
However, he pointed out that the weir area can be difficult for rowers and kayakers after a spell of heavy rain such as was experienced earlier in the week.
"This is a tragic situation," he said.