independent

Friday 15 December 2017

Divers plucked to safety

SCUBA DIVERS RESCUED AFTER OVERNIGHT ORDEAL AT

ANNE MARIE O'CONNOR

FOUR WEXFORD scuba divers were plucked from the waters off Kilmore Quay last weekend following a massive overnight RNLI and Coastguard rescue operation.

Seamus Furlong, Sean Reynolds, David Nolan and Tomasz Tokaj spent the night on the hull of their capsized boat as rescue crews from as far away as Dunmore East were tasked to find them.

The men got into difficulties when their 8.5m RIB capsized as they returned to Kilmore Quay after cancelling an early evening dive at the 'Lismore' wreck.

The four were eventually located and winched to safety by the Coastguard helicopter. The men, who were wearing dry suits and lifejackets, did not need hospitalisation. ONE OF THE scuba divers dramatically winched to safety off Kilmore Quay on Saturday morning said he worried more about his wife at home than he did for his own safety during the 10 hour ordeal.

Seamus Furlong, an experienced diver and instructor with Wexford Sub Aqua Club, was one of four men to get into difficulty during an early evening dive expedition off Kilmore Quay.

Seamus and the other three divers Sean Reynolds, David Nolan and Tomasz Tokaj were returning to Kilmore Quay at 8.30 p.m on Saturday evening after deciding not to dive at the 'Lismore' wreck when a ' major structure failure' on their 8.5 metre rigid inflatable caused it to capsize.

The divers - who were all wearing dry suits which shielded them from potential hypothermia - managed to climb onto the hull of the overturned boat, and had a lengthy wait until 6 a.m. before they were plucked to safety by the Coastguard Rescue 117 helicopter.

'Naturally enough when you are that far out, of course you are concerned, but to be honest we were more concerned about the worry for our wives and families. We were sitting on the hull of the boat, and had secured ourselves. We could see everything that was going on. We could see the RNLI boats going out and the activity on the shore,' said Seamus from Gurteenminogue, Murrintown.

The alarm was raised when the four members of Wexford Sub Aqua Club failed to return by 10.30 p.m. When the rib they were in overturned, VHF radio equipment was destroyed preventing them from calling the coast guard.

Initially the Kilmore Quay life boat was tasked along with Kilmore Quay and Carnsore Coast Guard Ground Units.

Shortly after midnight Rosslare Coast Guard issued a 'Pan Pan' message to all vessels to keep watch for the rib and the helicopter was dispatched along with the Dunmore East lifeboat.

At 1.30 a.m. the helicopter winchmen spotted a rib, similar to the missing vessel on rocks on the west side of Keeragh Islands, but this turned out to be a false alarm.

Fethard and Rosslare lifeboats were launched to assist the search at 2.30 a.m. The search intensified after daybreak and a member of Kilmore Coast Guard reported seeing the upturned Rib with four people on board south west of Forlorn Point, off Kilmore.

The men were winched by Rescue 117 and taken back to Waterford airport where two ambulances awaited them. The men, however, did not require hospitalisation.

The vast experience of the four divers was the reason for the happy outcome according to Seamus Furlong. 'Every bit of training we had came into play,' he said, adding that all of the men had taken part in search and rescue simulations with the Coastguard the previous weekend.

'A major structure failure with the boat caused it to capsize,' said Seamus. The divers had managed to dive under the hull of the boat to recover flares and a smoke canisters. The flares and smoke were used in attempt to alert a passing ship, to no avail.

Seamus added that the men were all wearing full dry suits (which protected them from the danger of exposure) and had life jackets on. He believes they could even have survived some days in the water, as they had managed to pull themselves up onto the overturned boat and were close to shore.

'We were sitting there in the dark, and could see the lights off Kilmore. We could see the helicopter and lifeboats,' he said.

He stressed that they had gone out to dive on a bright evening.

'It wasn't in the pitch dark. We went out intending to dive early in the evening on one of the longest days of the year,' he said, adding that when they got to their dive destination they decided to abandon the idea and return to shore.

'We were on a rigid inflatable, twice the size of the one that the RNLI in Wexford use. It wasn't a little dinghy. We are all very experience divers and we were well capable of handling what was thrown at us,' he said.

He added that the training and experience was key to ensuring their safety. 'If we didn't have that experience, it could have been a very different story,' he said.

Seamus himself said the drama has not put him off diving as a past time.

'Please God, I'll be out there again in a couple of weeks,' he said.

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