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Bill Rothwell, of Lahinch, who was rescued by Doolin Coastguard following and incident at Black Head in 2017. Photograph by John Kelly

Rescued angler underlines value of Doolin Coast Guard unit

THE need to reinstate Doolin Coastguard for cliff rescues has been emphasised by a Lahinch angler who was previously rescued by the unit a few years ago, writes Dan Danaher.

Bill Rothwell has urged the government to fast-track the process for the return of Doolin Coastguard, which was controversially stood down following the resignation of six members.

His appeal coincided with the latest revelation that Killala Coastguard is operating with only 14 members including four new recruits, while 12 volunteers of Doolin CG, with 175 years of combined experience behind themselves aren’t allowed to operate.

Minister of State, Hildegarde Naughton has pledged to discuss the appointment of a mediator with officials in her department after Doolin CG was stood down “to ensure the safety of volunteers”.

Speaking in the Seanad, Senator Martin Conway called for an independent mediator to visit Doolin and engage with all parties.

“There is no faith in the Coast Guard directly resolving this problem and, to a large extent, the Coast Guard is seen as part of the problem. Some of the past and serving members have given most of their volunteering lives to the Doolin Coast Guard, rescuing many people and recovering many bodies.

“We owe it to the people who use the coast to give them confidence that the superb Doolin Coast Guard is there if they get into trouble when fishing, surfing or swimming.”

Senator Timmy Dooley asked the minister to consider appointing Kieran Mulvey as mediator.

Living in Lahinch for the last 20 years, Mr Rothwell recalled the Doolin Coastguard was first on the scene to provide him assistance while emergency services were dealing with a lady who had broken her leg at the Cliffs of Moher.

On December 3, 2017, Mr Rothwell was fishing near Black Head as part of an event to commemorate the lives of two deceased members of the Lisdoonvarna Fanore Sea Angling Club.

His wife went to O’Donohue’s Pub in Fanore with one of the deceased wives

Although conditions were quite calm and not considered dangerous, Mr Rothwell slipped and fell into the sea.

In an interview with the Clare Champion, the angler recalled he swam back and managed to get hold of a reef ledge.

A former coastguard member grabbed his hand and held him before he called for help and got others to contact Doolin Coastguard.

Having sprained his ankle and injured his knee, the Lahinch angler was not able to climb back up on the reef.

He was hoisted vertically by a number of people who moved him to another safer position, took all his wet clothes off, gave him dry clothes including a woolly hat to keep his head warm.

An off-duty nurse who was in the area checked to ensure he was in a stable condition. Within 20 minutes, Doolin Coastguard members put him on a stretcher vertically and managed to slide him up a reef ledge and another 20 foot cliff over rocks and stones.

He was winched up to safety 50 feet into the 115 rescue helicopter by the winchman who boldly held on to his stretcher to keep him safe.

Following some medical checks, he was taken to University Hospital Galway where he recalled he got excellent treatment from staff.

He said the angling club, which has made financial contributions to Doolin Coastguard and the RNLI, wants to see the coastguard reinstated as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, the Clare Champion has learned from a well placed source that the allegations of “serious bullying and harassment” that led to the departure of six members was not caused by the 12 remaining members.

It has emerged the deputy officer in charge in Doolin has more than 30 years of experience including acting in the role of OIC on numerous occasions.

Qualification of the volunteers include eight members qualified in cliff operations, five boat crew, one drone operator, with all members capable of being deployed for searches.

Two more volunteers had an appointment for individual assessment in climbing on November 7 and they would increase the number of volunteers qualified in cliff operations to ten people. However, this assessment was cancelled on November 4.

Three more members could be qualified as boat crew imminently, pending being allowed to complete National Power Boat Course as scheduled. They each need 16 hours of training on this two-day course, which would allow them to join the boat crew taking the strength to eight crew members.

The “Off the Board” status of the unit at present means that volunteers are not allowed to train, so skills and certification of skills will decline and subsequently expire.

All volunteers hold PHECC approved certificate in First Aid Response, one of the volunteers is a local GP and one is a qualified first aid responder.

All volunteers are trained in helicopter landing operations and can assist the helicopter crew with landing zone security, pre-landing risk assessment and site preparation with lighting, smoke signals etc. in preparation for the aircraft landing at remote sites.

Members are also trained in assisting with “Hi-Line” winching operations where a landing is not possible, with members also assisting in the transfer of patients onto the aircraft as required.
This type of response is time critical and usually requires immediate deployment of the team.

It would neither be feasible nor practical for any other “stakeholders” to deliver such a vital “safety” service.

Doolin Coastguard station is a new, purpose built, building fully equipped station, with three jeeps, van, trailer with climbing equipment, ATV, two boats D class and Delta, dry room, changing rooms, training room, operations room.

A general view of the Irish Coast Guard Centre at Doolin built in 2015. Photograph by John Kelly.

The station contains wide range of navigation tools, mapping hardware and software and operational equipment – search bags, binoculars, torches and stretchers.

Doolin CG volunteers live locally and are ready to respond within minutes. Other stakeholders like Civil Defence is based in Ennis, 32 km away, Kilkee CGU, 55 km away, can be tasked as support, but immediate response should be initiated locally.

It has emerged the local fire brigade do not have the required equipment to deal with incidents on cliffs in excess of 100 meters in height such as an incident on the Cliffs of Moher.
Doolin CGU are the primary responders to any cliff-based incidents from Black Head to Loop Head and on any other cliffs on the Clare coastline of the Shannon Estuary.

At present the only all-weather boat available for rescue in the affected area is the Aran Island Lifeboat on Inis Mór. That boat now has to cover the area between Slyne Head and Loop

In a case where the Aran Island Lifeboat is undergoing critical maintenance, an audit or inspection, or some other unforeseen circumstance, the whole Clare coastline from Black Head to Loop head will be exposed and vulnerable without an appropriate marine rescue response being available.

Travel time from Inis Mór to Doolin for the Aran Islands lifeboat, is approximately 60 minutes. Average boat launch time for Doolin CGU is 15-20 mins.

The Inis Óirr team with six members do not have a boat to travel to Doolin area, while ferry operations between Doolin and Inisheer ceased for the winter.

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