The Sligo-based Coast Guard helicopter winched a Donegal fisherman to safety from heavy seas and breaking surf off Inishinny Island on Saturday, just moments before the boat he had been tied to sank.
After transporting the fisherman to Letterkenny University Hospital, the helicopter was returning to base when they received a call of two surfers in difficulty off Tullaghan in County Leitrim.
The helicopter and Bundoran RNLI rescued the surfers. Neither surfer needed medical assistance.
The fisherman, who was treated for hypothermia, was reported to be up and alert in hospital yesterday.
The Coast Guard received the 999 call about the fisherman shortly before 6pm on Saturday. The Coast Guard helicopter, Bunbeg Coast Guard and Arranmore Island RNLI were called to respond.
The Arranmore lifeboat was first to reach the location but was unable to reach the fisherman because of 20-foot swells breaking on the reef. The helicopter was on the scene at about 6.20pm and discovered there was a rope wrapped several times around the fisherman that was attached to the boat.
Manus Patten, Coast Guard station officer at Malin Head, said the fisherman was wearing a lifejacket and had his hand on a life ring, but was unable to release himself from the ropes.
Negotiating the stormy surf, the Coast Guard winchman was able to get a strap on the fisherman and cut the rope that bound him to the boat, just moments before the boat sank, Station Officer Patten said.
“He was that close,” he said. The fisherman was lifted from the water shortly after 6.30pm and transported to hospital, with the Coast Guard requesting a resuscitation team at the hospital landing pad because of the fisherman’s critical state. Water temperature at the time was about 7 degrees Celsius, Arranmore RNLI reported.
Nora Flanagan, Arranmore RNLI spokesperson, and Station Officer Patten credited the winchman with his quick work. Describing the winchman as swinging at the end of the rope in the wind and surf, the station officer said, “He could see the danger of what was in front of him,” adding, “The urgency of it was going through his mind.”
He said, “Fair play to everyone involved.”
Our photo show the scene on Sunday as one of two surfers is winched aboard the rescue helicopter at Bundoran. Photo Marc Kelly