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A Galway coroner has paid tribute to a French-Canadian who tried to save the life of a Swiss woman when the caravan she was staying in at a Connemara campsite was swept into the sea during Storm Ali writes Lorna Siggins

Galway West coroner Dr Ciaran McLoughlin also paid tribute to the Irish Coast Guard, National Ambulance Service and Garda and to fellow doctor John Casey, who all risked their lives when attending the scene.

As Afloat reported previously, Swiss nurse Elvira Ferrari (58), a mother of three from Steinmaur, Zurich in Switzerland, tried to escape when winds flipped over the caravan and it was swept down a nine-metre (30 foot) drop into the sea on the morning of September 19th, 2018.

The storm-force 11 winds which hit the west coast were far stronger than speeds forecast, the inquest before Dr McLoughlin heard on Thursday (Oct 31).

The jury heard that Ms Ferrari had booked into the Clifden Eco Beach Camping and Caravan Park on September 16th, 2018, for three nights, and been offered the use of a mobile home as an alternative the previous night due to a bad forecast.

Ms Ferrari (58) had come to Ireland in August of that year to study English in Galway for three weeks and had planned to spend four days in Connemara.

The inquest heard that she had rented a bike in Clifden, which she was due to return on the day of the incident.

Witness Ms Sally Forth of Darlington, England, who was camping at the site, said that she saw a caravan blow over onto its side at about 7.45 am that morning, and it rolled onto a cliff edge and onto the beach. She saw the door open, and a figure trying to get out.

Mr Caleb-Amie Soltendieck, a French-Canadian who was staying at the eco-park with his girlfriend Shamie Gizuere Levesque, said he was alerted by Shamie who had seen the caravan blow over.

He ran out and spotted the caravan on the beach some nine metres (30 foot )below, and in the water.

Mr Soltendieck said he could see someone was trapped underneath.

He managed to get Ms Ferrari out from underneath, but she had severe injuries as her head had been crushed.

The eco-camp owner Kris Acton, who has run the caravan and campsite with his wife Tatjana since 2010, said the weather forecast for Wednesday, September 19th, 2018, had been for 70 mile per hour (MPH) winds.

He said an orange alert had been issued for that part of the coast.

Mr Acton had also checked a British weather forecast, which predicted 68 to 70 MPH winds.

Mr Acton said he had advised customers the night before to move, and had provided storm shields, and also advised those staying there with cars to use them as windbreaks.

He said his wife had spoken to Ms Ferrari on the Tuesday night and offered her the use of a mobile home, as the caravan would be very noisy in high winds.

At 7.45 am on the Wednesday morning, there was a knock on the door and a woman was shouting that a caravan had toppled over.

He ran down to the beach, saw a body, and was told by Mr Soltendieck that there was no pulse. The emergency services were called, and both he and his wife administered cardio-pulmonary resuscitation on instruction.

Mr Acton said that he believed the gusts were over 90 miles per hour and were of a “red alert” category, and winds of this ferocity would only occur in wintertime.

Ms Tatjana Acton said she had spoken to Ms Ferrari the night before, as there had been an issue with her credit card, and they spoke German to each other.

She said she had suggested Ms Ferrari transfer to a mobile home that night, but the Swiss guest seemed more concerned about an issue with her credit card.

Irish Coast Guard Cleggan officer Michael Murray, who reached the scene at 7.58 am, told Dr McLoughlin that the forecast was “well off” in his opinion, and was “near hurricane-force”. He said he had to move his jeep during the incident at one point as the winds were so severe.

Clifden GP Dr John Casey said in his statement that Ms Ferrari sustained catastrophic head injuries and he pronounced her dead at 8.17 am.

Garda Shane Nally of Clifden Garda station said he arrived with three colleagues, and ambulance staff, and Dr Casey was attending Ms Ferrari’s body, which was about three metres (10 ft) from the caravan on the beach.

Pathologist Dr Ramadan Shatwan gave the cause of death as a severe traumatic head injury.

Coroner Dr Ciaran McLoughlin paid tribute to Mr Soltendieck for trying to save Ms Ferrari, and to the emergency services for their bravery in such weather conditions.

He said a storm of that nature was most unusual for that time of year.

“This was indeed a tragic accident, in no way foreseen,” Dr McLoughlin said.

A jury returned a verdict of severe traumatic head injury.

The coroner, the Garda and the jury expressed sympathies to Ms Ferrari’s two sons, Romain and Nico, and daughter Mengia and ex-husband, Bruno. Ms Ferrari’s son Romain and his partner Alexandra were present at the inquest.

Published in Coastguard
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Howth Coast Guard has successfully deployed its new remote operated vehicle (ROV) for the first time in a missing person exercise last night (Wednesday 30 October).

After several weeks of training, the coastguard team set out to locate a potential area of interest on the shore, and the rescue ROV was launched to conduct a sub-surface search.

An adult weighted target was then successfully located using the ROV camera and it was brought to the surface by the ROV using its gripping arm.

Published in Rescue
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The relatives of a Fermanagh woman who was one of 18 people rescued by two Donegal fishermen have expressed delight that the men are to receive national bravery awards – all of 63 years after the event writes Lorna Siggins

James and Michael “Mickey Red” Gallagher, aged 85 and 80 respectively, will be conferred with State bravery awards today at Farmleigh House, Dublin, and their late father, Michael, will be given posthumous recognition for his role.

The late Jean Morrell, née Mavitty, from Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, was one of the 18 saved by the Gallagher brothers, after the punt she was a passenger in sank off Roaninish skerries, some five km off Portnoo, Co Donegal.

Jean Mavitty was aged 15 at the time, and had to be restrained by the Gallaghers from trying to jump in again to save her dad after she had been pulled from the Atlantic.

The body of her father, Desmond Mavitty (49), was found three weeks later on Roaninish. He was one of three fatalities.

A young boy, Christopher Chambers, was fatally injured in the propeller of a nearby yacht which had tried to help, while a family friend of the Mavittys, George Warren (55), was taken from the water by the fishermen. In spite of attempts to resuscitate him, he did not survive.

The fishermen, who had set out from Rutland island to fish for lobsters in their father’s half decker, Irine, took the 15 rescued from the water after the punt sinking back into Portnoo.

They also secured the body of Christopher Chambers, and towed in the yacht with three people on board to safety.

There were no VHF radios at the time to contact the RNLI Arranmore lifeboat, and limited communication meant that there were no Gardai at the pier. The fishermen were not notified of the inquest into the three fatalities, which took place that night.

When they got home to Rutland island, which lies between Burtonport and Arranmore, they remember their mother was beside herself with worry, as she had by then heard a report of a sinking and thought her husband and sons had been lost.

Jean Mavitty’s son, Robert, lives in Enniskillen, and said his late mother often talked about the incident, but did not know who to thank. He said she made sure to teach her two children to swim in the sea when they returned on holidays to Portnoo.

“All she remembered at that time was seeing a boathook - none of them had lifejackets when they were pulled out,”Mr Morrell said.

“ My mum had passed her lifesaving awards just a couple of months before, and that was what really upset her about losing her father,,”Mr Morrell said.

Mr Morrell is due to travel to Dublin today (fri) with his sister, Jenny, to congratulate the Gallaghers.

The siblings only learned about the Gallaghers’ involvement two months ago, and visited them recently at their home in Burtonport.

“Together , we feel sure that mum would be proud to acknowledge her personal heroes,” they said. “Without those men, we would not be here...”

The Gallaghers are among 19 recipients of State awards for 12 instances of bravery, and one posthumous award will be conferred on their father, Michael.

The honours will be awarded at Farmleigh House, Dublin, today (oct 18) by Comhairle na Míre Gaile – the Deeds of Bravery Council.

It was established in 1947 to “provide for suitable recognition by the State of deeds of bravery”, and is chaired by the Ceann Comhairle of the Dáil.

Eight serving and one retired Garda are also recipients this year, and the full list is as follows:

Adrian Brennan, Kilkenny; retired Garda Desmond Brennan, Dublin; Garda Pauric Deery, Sligo.; Basil Harte , Sligo; James Hennessy, Cork; Olive Murphy, Cork; Aonghus O’Briain, Dublin; Michael Hempenstall, Dublin; Garda Donal Tully, Dublin; Garda David Currivan, Dublin; Garda Cathal McGeoghan, Dublin; James Gallagher (Snr), Donegal; Mickey ‘Red Michael’ Gallagher , Donegal; Michael Gallagher (Snr),Donegal (posthumous award); Garda Seán Breheny, Dublin; Gary Kennedy, Mayo; Garda Darren Blackwell, Dublin; Sergeant Gavin Coleman, Dublin; Garda M.J. Carroll, Dublin; Garda Jason Walsh, Dublin.

Published in Rescue
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Two Donegal brothers are to receive national bravery awards next week for their rescue of 18 people from two vessels which got into difficulty off Portnoo - all of 63 years ago writes Lorna Siggins.

Retired fishermen James and Michael Gallagher of Burtonport, Co Donegal, were on their father’s half decker, Irine and had set out to check lobster pots when a punt nearby with 15 people on board took a wave across the bow and was swamped.

“It’s as clear in my mind as if it happened yesterday,” James says, recalling the events of August 22nd, 1956 in today’s Irish Independent here

All 15 on the punt ended up in the water with no lifejackets. Among those rescued was Jean Mavitty, then 15 years old, but her father Desmond Mavitty (49) was one of three who drowned, along with George Warren (55) and Christopher Chambers (7). The young boy was fatally injured by the propellor of a nearby yacht.

Those taken ashore by the fishermen included Bruce and Lorna Warren (aged 14 and 17), Robin Chambers (11), David Logan (11), Joe Morton (19), Pat Morton (17), Nevin Kerr (20), Aiden Campbell (15) and Alan Cooper (15). The party had set out to look at the wreck of a coaster, Greenhaven, which had run up on Roaninish island some months before.

Jean Mavitty’s son, Robert Morrell, says his late mother often wondered who she could thank, as she had no memory of who had carried out the rescue. The inquest into the three fatalities was held immediately after the incident, and the fishermen were not present.

The national bravery awards, conferred this year at Farmleigh House, Dublin, on October 18th, are conferred by the Dáil ceann comhairle on people from all walks of life and all sections of society who have “ carried out a deed of bravery with an effort to save human life involving personal risk".

The Gallagher brothers, now aged 80 and 85, will be joined by Jim Gallagher, son of James and nephew of Michael, who has also spent a life at sea and nominated them for the award.

For more see Irish Independent here

Published in Rescue
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Coastguard teams from Bangor and Portaferry were tasked to Strangford Lough on Saturday afternoon (17 August) to rescue a young dog stranded by the tide at Island Hill.

The pup’s worried owner “was in the mindset of attempting a rescue himself” but let the coastguard rescuers — one of whom is a dog handler with K9 Search and Rescue NI — handle the situation, according to Belfast Coastguard.

With a little patience to win over the frightened animal’s trust, the dog was soon in the arms of coastguard volunteers and reunited with its owner on dry land.

Belfast Coastguard reminded all pet owners: “Please don’t enter the water after your dog. Dial 999 and ask for the coastguard.”

Published in Coastguard
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A member of the US Coast Guard and three of his relatives have been praised by the father of a young girl rescued after she was swept out to sea from a Dublin beach.

As The Irish Times reports, Walter Butler and his relations Eoghan Butler, Declan Butler and Alex Thomson leapt into action when they heard screams for help and saw the girl on a “pink floaty” off Portmarnock beach on Monday afternoon (22 July).

Butler remained on the beach ready to provide casualty care while the others swam out to the girl, who was swept some distance from shore and at one point was struggling to stay afloat after coming off her inflatable.

“We have all been swimming competitively since we were six or seven years old so to say we are good swimmers is an understatement,” said Butler — who noted that it still took half an hour for his relatives to reach the girl and swim her back to the beach, where paramedics and her relieved father were waiting.

The dangers of using inflatables at the seaside were highlighted again just hours later, when Larne RNLI launched yesterday afternoon (Tuesday 23 July) to a report of three people being carried out to sea on inflatable toys in Browns Bay.

At the scene, the volunteer crew found a small fishing vessel had already taken one casualty on board, and they look over to bring the remaining two onto the lifeboat.

RNLI volunteer helm Barry Kirkpatrick said: “We advise you not to use inflatables at the beach as offshore winds can easily sweep you off the shore in a very quick space of time.

“If you do get into difficulty or see anyone else in difficulty, please remember to call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard.”

Belfast Coastguard has warned that a number of children have been blown out to sea on inflatable toys in recent days.

“Please remember the safest place for children to play with these death traps is in the back garden,” a spokesperson said.

Published in Rescue

Wicklow RNLI's inshore lifeboat was launched at 4:40pm yesterday afternoon (Friday 8 March) to search for a missing dog.

The alarm was raised by the anxious owner after her dog, named Otis, chased some seagulls down over the cliff edge at Wicklow Head and disappeared.

The lifeboat — with helm Graham Fitzgerald and crew Ian Thompson and John Stapleton — was on scene eight minutes after launching and the crew began a sweep of caves and the shoreline at a location known as the Pond, near Wicklow Head lighthouse.

During the search the dog could be heard barking from a cave, so crew member Stapleton was put ashore near the opening and, with some persuading, the dog was coaxed out to climb back up the cliff and into the arms of his grateful owner.

Elsewhere, a young man was recovered from the River Corrib by members of the emergency services in Galway in the early hours of Friday morning following a major rescue operation involving the Galway RNLI lifeboat.

The man has got into difficulty in a canal beside the river around 3.30am, and during the rescue both the casualty and rescue personnel ended up entering the fast-flowing Corrib towards the Spanish Arch, where the casualty was recovered for transfer to Galway University Hospital.

Mike Swan, Galway RNLI lifeboat operations manager, said: “We would encourage all members of the public to respect the water at all times regardless of their activity.

“Be wary of all edges around the sea and watersides. Slips and falls happen in all locations.”

Published in RNLI Lifeboats

The International Maritime Rescue Federation (IMRF) is calling for outstanding individuals, teams, professionals or volunteers, companies and organisations involved in maritime search and rescues (SAR) – all around the world - to be nominated for an IMRF Award 2019.

"The World Health Organisation estimates that 40 people drown every hour around the world, but without the incredible actions of maritime search and rescue professionals that number would be much higher," says Theresa Crossley, CEO IMRF. 

"These Awards recognise those incredible people and the new innovations and technologies that make saving lives at sea possible, even in the most difficult and demanding circumstances.

"The IMRF Awards are now in their fourth year, but each time I review the nominations I am both inspired and humbled by the stories of actions undertaken by maritime SAR professionals around the world," she adds.

Last years' winners included a ship's master who rescued three starving fishermen drifting on a sinking boat, a lifeboat station crew from the Netherlands that had rescued four people from a drifting guard vessel in force eight north westerly winds with ten metre high waves, and a pink rescue buoy flotation device that's saving lives around the coast of South Africa. In addition, two exceptional lifetime awards were presented to two individuals with more than 100 years between them, saving lives at sea in the Caribbean and Bulgaria.

The IMRF is asking everyone to think about those involved in maritime SAR, whether professionals, volunteers, individuals or teams 'who really make a difference', or a 'game-changing' maritime SAR product, service or operational procedure and to consider nominating them for an IMRF Award now.

Nominations are open for the four Award categories:

· Individual: For Outstanding Individual Contribution to a Maritime SAR Operation

· Team: For Outstanding Team Contribution to a Maritime SAR Operation

· Innovation & Technology: For Innovation and Technology in the field of Maritime SAR

· Lifetime Achievement: The Vladimir Maksimov Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Maritime SAR Sector

This year, the Awards ceremony will be held during London International Shipping Week

(9 – 13 September 2019) an event which attracts high-level government representatives and shipping industry leaders from around the world.

The 2019 Awards lunch will take place on an historic vessel moored on the River Thames in London on 10 September.

Visit www.imrfawards.org for more details and to submit a nomination.

Published in Rescue
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#RNLI - Portaferry RNLI’s volunteer crew were paged yesterday afternoon (Saturday 11 August) to go to the aid of two people stranded on Guns Island off Co Down.

The lifeboat launched at 3:20pm in overcast weather with good visibility and a Force 4 south-easterly wind but a rough sea state, and on arrival on scene 20 minutes later it was raining with poor visibility.

Newcastle, Bangor and Portaferry coastguard rescue teams were also in attendance, assisting from the shore.

The RNLI crew approached the scene where they rescued the two people and their dog from the island, where they were stranded after their six-metre punt got into difficultly and was destroyed on nearby rocks.

The casualties were taken to Ballyhornan Beach where they were transferred to the care of the coastguard rescue teams on shore.

Elsewhere, Clifden RNLI added to their busy August with a callout to a yacht with engine trouble both of Slyne Head on Friday afternoon (10 August).

A light Force 2 north-westerly wind made the yacht’s passage to Clifden slow going under sail alone. The Clifden lifeboat crew established a tow to Clifden Bay, which took over an hour, and the D-class lifeboat aided in mooring the yacht.

“Once on the mooring, a rope could be observed caught underneath the yachts hull and an attempt was made to release it. This proved unsuccessful but explained how the yacht had lost mechanical propulsion,” said Clifden RNLI coxswain David Barry.

Published in RNLI Lifeboats

Why would anyone ignore an offer of a free system that can make sailing, boating, kayaking, canoeing and other water-based activities safer?

I don’t know the answer to that, but maybe there is some reader of Afloat.ie who will tell me why.

I was quite surprised when the man who has led the development of a system which, it is claimed, “fills a critical gap in maritime situational awareness,” is less used in Ireland than anywhere else in the world!

There are more than 170,000 users around the world of a maritime safety and rescue tracking device which has been developed and produced by a Cork technology company. It is in use in Finland, Germany, Holland, Spain, South Africa, Australia, Norway, Cyprus, the United Kingdom and Denmark. Sweden is the latest country that has decided to introduce the Cork-developed system.

JOHN MURPHY SAFE TRXJohn Murphy of SafeTrx

SafeTrx is a vessel tracking Smartphone application, Irish-developed and, while it is used in Ireland, John Murphy, CEO of 8 West Consulting, developers of the award-winning SafeTrx Mariner Smartphone-based tracking and alerting system, says he “would consider use low in Ireland in comparison to other countries.”

Overseas countries have run public information/education campaigns about water safety, built around SafeTrx. “They have taken to heart what we have developed,”
he said.

"In an emergency situation it gives rescue authorities quick access to information about the location"

Though the Irish Sailing Association has urged its use here, it is not used as much as overseas. That surprised me when I interviewed John Murphy for my radio programme, This Island Nation. The system has recorded 750,000 hours of use and is sold to national search-and-rescue authorities, so the leisure boat user has no cost to use it.

In an emergency situation it gives rescue authorities quick access to information about the location.

So why is usage low in Ireland?

“Perhaps it is an issue about privacy or confidentiality or not wanting to bother the authorities. That is not prevalent in other countries. In Holland the take-up went from zero to 10,000 registered users in one week. There’s a different psychology, a different acceptance of risk and what people need to do to support themselves in those countries than there is in Ireland,” John Murphy said.

• Listen to the Podcast below of my interview here with John Murphy, a diver and a mountaineer who began developing SafeTrx after discussing with the Irish Coast Guard the need for a safety system for leisure sailors, inshore fishermen, kayakers, canoeists and other leisure water users, to create an ability for the rescue services to track their trips.

Published in Tom MacSweeney
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