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Galway Paddleboarders Pay Tribute to Enormous Rescue Effort - Former SAR Pilot Raises Questions About Search

16th August 2020
Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan, who rescued cousins Ellen Glynn and Sara Feeney off Inis Oirr island, with some of Patrick’s RNLI colleagues on their arrival back at the Galway RNLI Lifeboat Station at Galway Docks Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan, who rescued cousins Ellen Glynn and Sara Feeney off Inis Oirr island, with some of Patrick’s RNLI colleagues on their arrival back at the Galway RNLI Lifeboat Station at Galway Docks Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy

Galway student Sara Feeney (23) has said she is “overwhelmed” with gratitude for the hundreds of people who searched overnight when she and her cousin Ellen Glynn (17) were swept out to the mouth of Galway Bay on paddleboards last week.

In a Sunday Times interview, Ms Feeney also pays tribute to her cousin, who was due to be released from University Hospital Galway this weekend.

“We didn’t even verbalise what might happen, or what we might both be thinking,” Ms Feeney, who was able to return home on the night of her rescue, says.

“I think if we had panicked at all, things could have been very different. I know if Ellen had panicked, I would have found it very difficult,” she says.

Ellen Glynn, who has also paid tribute to the rescue agencies, volunteers and Claddagh mariners Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan who found them tethered to crab pot floats, says that the sight of meteor showers and phosphorescence on the sea sustained them during the night.

They also sighted a small pod of dolphins off the Aran island of Inis Oírr the following morning.

Former Irish Coast Guard search and rescue pilot Dave Courtney, author of the memoir Nine Lives, says that questions need to be asked as to why the rescue took so long.

"sea-faring gut instinct"

“The whole country rejoiced when the two women were found alive after 15 hours at sea.,” Courtney said, paying tribute to the enormous rescue effort.

“ But tide and search probability computer technology, and three of the country’s four rescue helicopters - the most modern and best equipped in the world, armed with heat-seeking cameras - were no match for the sea-faring gut instinct of Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan,” he said.

The Olivers had noted the wind and “headed like a bloodhound straight to the survivors’ location”, Courtney said.

“The ocean is a cruel place....there was no loss of life in this incident, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learned,” he said.

“ The term ‘looking for a needle in a haystack’ is valid except that the FLIR / Forward-Looking Infra-Red camera on the Coast Guard helicopter can see the heat of human life relatively easily in sultry summer weather,” he said.

“Was it used effectively during the search? Were search assets duplicating each other’s efforts, instead of extending the search area as time and tidal drift and wind effect would have necessitated?” Courtney asked.

Irish Coast Guard

The Irish Coast Guard has said the search for the two women covered a 200 square mile sea area, and said it was using SAR MAP - the US software used effectively by Valentia Coast Guard in 2011 to track the probable location of the crew of the yacht Rambler which capsized in the Fastnet yacht race off West Cork.

The SAR MAP search area generated two scenarios which were used to co-ordinate all assets, including fishing vessels and commercial craft, it says.

It is understood that the helicopters and lifeboats were receiving frequent reports of “targets of interest”, which they had to divert to.

The Irish Coast Guard says that if the two women were not falling under the focused spectrum of the Sikorsky S-92 night sun or FLIR camera they would be “difficult to spot”, particularly as they had no wetsuits to provide an extra heat source.

“ The search was just moving into the south-west of the Inis Oirr sector ...with both aviation and surface assets when the fishing vessel Johnny Ó came upon them. It is highly likely they would have been detected within the following one to two hours as it was daylight,” it says.

More on The Sunday Times here

Published in Galway Harbour
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

Email The Author

Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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Galway Port & Harbour

Galway Bay is a large bay on the west coast of Ireland, between County Galway in the province of Connacht to the north and the Burren in County Clare in the province of Munster to the south. Galway city and port is located on the northeast side of the bay. The bay is about 50 kilometres (31 miles) long and from 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) to 30 kilometres (19 miles) in breadth.

The Aran Islands are to the west across the entrance and there are numerous small islands within the bay.

Galway Port FAQs

Galway was founded in the 13th century by the de Burgo family, and became an important seaport with sailing ships bearing wine imports and exports of fish, hides and wool.

Not as old as previously thought. Galway bay was once a series of lagoons, known as Loch Lurgan, plied by people in log canoes. Ancient tree stumps exposed by storms in 2010 have been dated back about 7,500 years.

It is about 660,000 tonnes as it is a tidal port.

Capt Brian Sheridan, who succeeded his late father, Capt Frank Sheridan

The dock gates open approximately two hours before high water and close at high water subject to ship movements on each tide.

The typical ship sizes are in the region of 4,000 to 6,000 tonnes

Turbines for about 14 wind projects have been imported in recent years, but the tonnage of these cargoes is light. A European industry report calculates that each turbine generates €10 million in locally generated revenue during construction and logistics/transport.

Yes, Iceland has selected Galway as European landing location for international telecommunications cables. Farice, a company wholly owned by the Icelandic Government, currently owns and operates two submarine cables linking Iceland to Northern Europe.

It is "very much a live project", Harbourmaster Capt Sheridan says, and the Port of Galway board is "awaiting the outcome of a Bord Pleanála determination", he says.

90% of the scrap steel is exported to Spain with the balance being shipped to Portugal. Since the pandemic, scrap steel is shipped to the Liverpool where it is either transhipped to larger ships bound for China.

It might look like silage, but in fact, its bales domestic and municipal waste, exported to Denmark where the waste is incinerated, and the heat is used in district heating of homes and schools. It is called RDF or Refuse Derived Fuel and has been exported out of Galway since 2013.

The new ferry is arriving at Galway Bay onboard the cargo ship SVENJA. The vessel is currently on passage to Belem, Brazil before making her way across the Atlantic to Galway.

Two Volvo round world races have selected Galway for the prestigious yacht race route. Some 10,000 people welcomed the boats in during its first stopover in 2009, when a festival was marked by stunning weather. It was also selected for the race finish in 2012. The Volvo has changed its name and is now known as the "Ocean Race". Capt Sheridan says that once port expansion and the re-urbanisation of the docklands is complete, the port will welcome the "ocean race, Clipper race, Tall Ships race, Small Ships Regatta and maybe the America's Cup right into the city centre...".

The pandemic was the reason why Seafest did not go ahead in Cork in 2020. Galway will welcome Seafest back after it calls to Waterford and Limerick, thus having been to all the Port cities.

© Afloat 2020

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