Joint operation for sea emergency

Malin Head Coastguard Station.
Malin Head Coastguard Station.

Malin Head Coastguard Station and Lough Swilly RNLI in Inishowen were central to a mammoth rescue and recovery operation at Fanad Head in Donegal on Saturday.

A 59-year-old man, named locally as Mr. John McCourt from Co. Antrim, tragically died after falling into the sea.

It is understood he fell from a cliff into a gully in the sea as he was photographing waves at the lighthouse in Fanad, which is situated on a rocky outcrop.

The initial rescue operation got underway when Malin Head Coastguard was alerted by a person on shore.

They tasked Lough Swilly RNLI, the Sligo-based helicopter and Mulroy Coastguard to the scene.

Speaking to the ‘Journal,’ Joe Joyce from Lough Swilly RNLI, which is based in Buncrana, explained how heavy winds had resulted in large sea swells.

He said: “Malin Head Coastguard tasked us to the scene at 2.40pm and we arrived 25 minutes later.

“It was a huge operation and as well as ourselves, there was also the helicopter from Sligo, a coastguard shore team from Mulroy Coastguard and two local trawlers, who were on the scene.”

Mr Joyce told how the helicopter crew assessed the situation and were able to land on a helipad located nearby.

He disclosed that due to the fact there were two-metre swells, strong winds, the location and where the casualty was located, they could not land the boat,

Therefore, a member of the Lough Swilly RNLI crew, who are all voluntary members, swam to the shore in order to get to the gentleman.

“It was quite a tough job,” said Mr Joyce.

When the crew member swam to shore, he and the coastguard assessed the scene and had a visual of the man in the water.

As the RNLI member had a diving suit and lifejacket, it was decided he would go to the casualty with a rope attached to him.

“There were a lot of swells and backwater,” said Mr Joyce.

“He managed to grab hold of the man and attached the rope to him. The coastguard then brought him safely back to shore.”

The man was taken by helicopter to Letterkenny General Hospital, where he was sadly later pronounced dead.

The coastguard and RNLI teams have been praised for their efforts in recovering the man in such inclement weather conditions.

Mr McCourt was a highly respected member of the Antrim Camera Club and had won many awards.

It is understood he told friends he was looking forward to visiting Fanad Lighthouse and taking photographs of the waves.

Mr McCourt’s wife sadly passed away just three months ago.