A CO-ORDINATED search and rescue operation involving up to 11 emergency services helped to avert a major tragedy on Lough Derg last Friday night.
Thirty-five rowers, who were participating in an FISA international rowing race, had to be taken ashore at the University of Limerick Activity Centre in Two Mile Gate, where they were assessed and treated by paramedics after a sudden deterioration in weather conditions.
In total, 15 casualties required treatment for hypothermia by the national ambulance service. However, no patients required transportation to the University Hospital, Limerick and they returned by bus to their hotel in Limerick following treatment.
Less than 24 hours later, 22 schoolchildren had to be rescued after they got into difficulties while kayaking.
Volunteer lifeboat crews were launched on Friday evening after 18 rowing boats got into difficulty at Parker’s Point. The rowers, who had set out from Terryglass at the northern end of the lake at 2pm, were en route to Killaloe when the weather deteriorated.
The event rescue team contacted Valentia coastguard, at which point a number of emergency services were dispatched to assist.
Fears for the safety of one rowing boat, with five crew onboard, were expressed as they remained unaccounted for and only the coxswain was wearing a lifejacket.
The lifeboat crew began search patterns alongside the Shannon-based Coast Guard Helicopter, Killaloe Coast Guard, Limerick Rescue, Mount Shannon Rescue and three local boats.
The search also involved the national ambulance service, fire brigade from Killaloe and Scariff, the RNLI from Dromineer, civil defence, Shannondoc doctors, the gardaí and staff of the UL Activity Centre.
Information was hard to verify as rescuers worked to search the area. As boats were located, their crews were confirmed safe. It transpired that four boats had decided not to continue the journey and had returned to Terryglass, soon after they had set out earlier in the day.
At 9.40pm, the remaining boat was eventually located, safely recovered on Crow’s Island, north of Killaloe. Shortly afterwards, gardaí confirmed the five rowers had made it to safety and the search operation was stood down.
Mike Jones of University of Limerick Activity Centre told The Clare Champion that rescue and emergency services plan for these types of operations in great detail. He pointed out this co-ordinated approach provided an efficient and effective rescue for the rowers.
“The weather on Lough Derg is not to be underestimated. It is a lake with wide open spaces so the weather can change quite quickly here.
“The local conditions and geography can make what seems somewhat easy conditions in some parts of the lake difficult in other parts.
“The rowers were caught out partially by that.
“Rowers, under law, don’t have to wear lifejackets. They have exemption for river rowing. Anyone going out on the lake should check the weather forecast first, seek training in the activities they are engaging in and wear a personal flotation device at all times.
“The standardised approach to the way rescues are attended to made it easier for agencies to interact,” he said.
He acknowledged the support of the UL Activity Centre in the co-ordination of the rescue efforts and the field hospital for treatment of the casualties. He confirmed at the scene that all 35 rowers were safe and well in a Limerick hotel.
The crews hailed from a number of different countries, including Norway, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, at 11.19am on Saturday, Valentia Coast Guard requested the Lough Derg RNLI lifeboat to launch to search for young canoeists, who were in difficulty and unable to get to shore in gale-force winds at Whitegate, north of Killaloe, on Lough Derg.
The lifeboat launched at 11.30am. Winds were westerly, Force 6/7, gusting 8, with very poor visibility with rain and low cloud. Concerns had been raised about the safety of the children, who are members of a cub scout troop between the ages of eight and 10.
The lifeboat was stood down almost immediately by Valentia Coast Guard, when reports came through that the canoeists had safely landed on the Clare shore at Two Mile Gate. The Shannon-based rescue helicopter was also primed to respond but wasn’t required to attend.