Monday 23 April 2018

'We are all shocked and devastated' - Fisherman (57) dies after clinging to life raft for hour

An Air Corps helicopter at work at the site of the rescue operation. Photo: Irish Air Corps
An Air Corps helicopter at work at the site of the rescue operation. Photo: Irish Air Corps

Allison Bray and Robin Schiller

A fisherman has died and two other young men are in hospital after their boat sank off the Mayo coast.

The deceased - named locally as John Healy (57) - and two males in their 20s were on board the Aisling Patrick fishing boat when the vessel got into difficulty at around 12.30pm.

The three men, who are all experienced fishermen, are understood to have been crab fishing around 16 nautical miles from Eagle Island, situated off the Mayo coast, when the tragedy occurred.

Mr Healy is originally from the Erris area of Co Mayo, while his two injured co-workers are also from the locality.

Local Fine Gael Cllr Gerry Coyle said that the community is devastated.

"John was an experienced fisherman and a family man. We are all shocked and devastated that something this tragic would happen in our area," Mr Coyle said.

The upturned boat. Photo: Irish Air Corps
The upturned boat. Photo: Irish Air Corps

Rescue agencies were notified of the emergency when a distorted mayday call-out with partial coordinates was issued from the vessel.

The Malin Head Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Centre picked up the broadcast shortly after 12.30pm, and an emergency response was immediately launched.

However, the rescue was stymied by a lack of information, according to the Coast Guard.

"We didn't have the name or type of vessel and we were only able to get the latitude and not longitude," a Coast Guard official said of the boat's location.

Fortunately, the Air Corps' Casa maritime patrol aircraft happened to be patrolling the area at the time and spotted the men on the life raft after they set off flares, he said.

"We were very lucky the Air Corps was in the area and they were rescued," he said.

"Whatever happened (causing the boat to sink), it happened very quickly."

The Sligo-based Coast Guard helicopter located the life raft at about 1.20pm. The crew were rushed to hospital after rescuers winched them to safety aboard the helicopter.

Tragically, Mr Healy was pronounced dead at University Hospital Sligo. The other crew members were said to be recovering in hospital last night.

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board has launched an investigation.

Local gardaí will also prepare a report for the local coroner, who will in turn establish a cause of death for Mr Healy.

Conditions at the time of the incident were cold and choppy.

Met Éireann issued a status yellow small craft warning at 10am yesterday, warning of north-easterly winds reaching force six at times yesterday afternoon, from Rossan Point in Co Donegal down to Roches Point in Co Cork.

There was a force five wind in the area at the time of the rescue, with a 3.5-metre sea swell, according to the Coast Guard.

Volunteers from the Ballyglass RNLI also responded to the emergency.

Irish Independent

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