Tourist falls to her death on Skelligs

Second tragedy prompts review of island safety

Credit: Photos by Rory O'Callaghan

SIMON BROUDER sbrouder@kerryman.ie

A COMPLETE review of all safety features on Skellig Michael will be carried out after a second American tourist fell to her death from the precarious ledge leading to the summit of the world famous heritage site at the weekend. Fifty seven-year-old mother of two Christine Danielson Spooner from Rochester New York, who was holidaying in Kerry with her husband, died after she plunged 30 feet from the ledge near the top of Skellig Michael shortly after 11.30 on Sunday morning.

Mrs Danielson Spooner suffered serious head injuries when she fell from the ledge. A doctor and nurse who were visiting the island when the accident occurred provided medical assistance but her injuries proved to severe and she died at the scene.

Valentia Lifeboat and the Shannon-based rescue helicopter attended the scene, with the helicopter arriving around an hour after the fatal accident.

Boatmen listening to the unfolding rescue drama on the open radio emergency channel heard there was a problem finding a key to a gate leading to the helipad before the helicopter arrived at the scene. However, the helicopter did not need to land and the tourist's body was winched aboard.

Her remains were taken to Kerry General Hospital where a post mortem examination was carried out on Tuesday afternoon.

Christine Danielson Spooner's tragic death comes just five months after 77-year-old Joseph Gaughan from Pennsylvania died after a fall from the same ledge, near the top of the 600 steps that wind up the side of the 230 metre high island.

Following his death there were calls for a safety rope or handrails to be installed in the island but these were rejected by the Office of Public Works who said a safety rail would give visitors to the site "a false sense of security."

A sign warning tourists of the dangers they faced when climbing to the top of the island was installed recently.

Following Sunday's tragic events the OPW has confirmed it will carry out a "fundamental review of all operations, including safety," on Skellig Michael.

Dr Martin Mansergh, Minister with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, made the announcement on Monday. He said the issue of access, fencing and the number of guides on site will be part of the review.

Dr Mansergh added that boat operators and emergency services will be consulted for their input into measures required to make the island safer.

One of these boatmen, Kenneth Roddy of Joe Roddy and Sons a company which has provided transport to and from the island for over 40 years, was highly critical of the OPW's failure to install greater safety measures on the island.

Mr Roddy, who was in his boat at Skellig Michael on Sunday when the accident occurred, believes a simple railing would have been sufficient to prevent the tragedy.

"Calls have been made over the years before and after the first incident for a simple, short guardrail to be installed along this ledge, which is just a few short metres in length," he said.

"The OPW have already installed many fences, gates, stone walls and warning signs throughout the island which have been in place for many years now. What is preventing them from installing a simple guard-rail along this one ledge where the accidents have happened?" said Mr Roddy.

"So I believe that these recent deaths were totally preventable had a simple, short guard-rail been installed similar to others visible in other sections of the island. This most recent unfortunate woman lost her life in the exact same place as the earlier accident yet no guard-rail was installed throughout the summer," he said.

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