'We couldn't lose that little girl' - heroes who rescued child (5) swept out to sea on inflatable lilo

Left to right: Eoghan Butler, Alex Thomson, Walter Butler, and Declan Butler

Aoife Walsh

The young men who rescued a five-year-old girl after she was swept out to sea at Portmarnock beach have told of how they feared for her life as they launched a desperate rescue attempt.

Walter Butler (21) and his brothers, Eoghan Butler (18), Declan Butler (18), and Alex Thomson (24), came to the aid of the young girl after she fell into difficulty while floating on an inflatable lilo.

The four men, who are on holidays here from Virginia in the United States, had just entered the water when they heard someone calling for a lifeguard.

They then saw a girl on a "pink flamingo floaty screaming for help" as the current dragged her away from the shoreline.

Walter, a health services technician for the United States Coast Guard, decided to stay on the beach while the others swam out to the frightened child.

"As we swam out I realised that if this girl needed to be revived or needed any medical attention I had to be in my best shape to provide first aid," Walter said.

"You could see the brave little girl fighting for her life.

"She was doing everything she could to stay alive. Luckily, she gave it her all and Eoghan had enough time to grab her."

Shortly after, Declan and Alex also reached the girl and helped Eoghan bring her back to shore.

The girl was a "nervous wreck" by the time Eoghan had reached her.

Speaking to Independent.ie, he said: "There’s not enough words out there to describe the exact moment, but when I saw her in the vastness of the sea struggling to keep her head above water all I could do was to reassure her that people were out there for her and to ask for her to keep strong.

"When we finally got there she was a nervous wreck. Luckily I was able to take her mind off of the matter by talking to her, asking her when birthday was, what her favorite colour was and other things."

When I saw her in the vastness of the sea struggling to keep her head above water all I could do was to reassure her that people were out there for her and to ask for her to keep strong. Eoghan Butler

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As the commotion and stress grew around the men, Alex thought of the baby girl he and his partner are expecting in October: "The main thing I was thinking about was we couldn't lose that little girl. I’m expecting a daughter in October, and was empathising with the father's fear.

"I just couldn't imagine the pain he and the family would have felt had she gone under.

"I’m feeling good now. I slept well knowing the girl was safe at home," he added.

Declan said he was "grateful" that the group decided to go to the beach yesterday and were in a position to "help that unfortunate girl out".

"I'm so glad that she has the chance to see life now, and hope she can truly enjoy it," he said.

The Irish Coast Guard was notified and units from the Howth RNLI, as well as the Dublin Fire Brigade rushed to the scene.

Paramedics treated the young girl at the scene before she was taken to Temple Street Children's Hospital.

Her condition has been described as non-life-threatening.

Here are Irish Water Safety's top tips for keeping safe in the water:

Inexperienced swimmers should swim "within their depth"

"The main message is to swim within your depth, stay within your depth and swim parallel to the shore. Then if you do feel sick or unwell or dizzy, you can just drop your feet and wade back onto the bank," said John Leech, CEO of Irish Water Safety.

Swim in designated swimming areas

"As much as possible, swim in designated bathing areas, like for instance Salthill where they can dive and jump off the boards where they're being looked after carefully by lifeguards that are trained up to the best international practice.

"Then, thing don’t tend to go wrong. It's when they go off on their own unsupervised is when the trouble starts and unfortunately, they're out of their depth."

Wear a life jacket

"We want people going kayaking, sailing and angling particularly to wear a life jacket. It's really important to wear a life jacket no matter what you're doing.

"Although it can be sometimes quite hot and sometimes people feel a little uncomfortable when it gets very hot especially in the midlands, but please leave your life jacket on.

"Your body will be very hot and susceptible to cold shock. Cold shock is the main contributing factor to drownings in our temperate climate."

Keep paddling pools supervised at all times

"We're very much against paddling pools because unfortunately parents have the best will in the world, may have a drink or a barbecue, and the phone rings or whatever and they get distracted.

"Young children drown in seconds, 20-40 seconds they'll be gone. Drowning is silent, so you won't hear them."

Avoid inflatables 

"Don't use inflatable toys, they're absolutely lethal. I see them for sale in local supermarkets. The coast guard often rescue people out in Donegal bay, miles off shore, sitting in these inflatables because they've gotten blown away with off shore winds."