There were emotional scenes when a man stranded for 21 hours in a sea cave in north Mayo amid rough and rising tides was finally brought to safety after a major rescue operation.
The 40-year-old man, who was airlifted to hospital, managed to walk to the Coast Guard helicopter and climb aboard despite his ordeal.
Friends and family had stayed overnight at Downpatrick Head on Saturday and they hugged each other when news of the successful rescue broke around 3.40pm yesterday.
The man, believed to be an experienced caver and living nearby, was described last night as being in “remarkably good condition considering his ordeal”.
Michael Hurst of the Ballyglass Coast Guard said the man was pushed into the cave by a “freak wave”.
“He was with a partner and as far as we know they kayaked in the area and chose to walk around the cliffs at low tide.
“He is an experienced cave rescuer himself, he knows the area and the conditions. You just got caught in a giant wave.
“There were kayakers who managed to grab it, but unfortunately he was pushed into the cave and couldn’t get out.”
Killala Coast Guard Officer in Charge Darren Carey said the man was “extremely lucky to survive in the way he did”.
“His training has been good for him,” said Mr. Carey. “Once we found out he was in that cave, we could see him pretty quickly.
“He could only communicate with movement. Now and then he moved his hand or foot.
“It would have been extremely difficult to hear anything with the waves and sea lapping around him.
“RNLI played a blind man. They kept in touch with him every half hour, shining a torch at him and shouting through a loudspeaker. He greeted her back, which was very reassuring.
“Quite often these things can go the other way, so we’re so pleased that this rescue worked out,” he added.
Many of the rescuers had not slept in over 30 hours, skipping breaks to retrieve the man before dark last night.
Warmer temperatures over the past 24 hours are understood to have saved the man from severe hypothermia, although weather conditions hampered the rescue effort.
“He was very lucky that the weather was so warm in September. The night before it had dropped to 4 degrees.
“He had gear with him (a wetsuit, a helmet and boots) which combined with his experience saved him a lot,” Mr Carey said. Michael Durkan, Deputy Commander of the Killala Coastguard, explained the complex nature of the rescue conducted by the Irish Cave Rescue organisation.
“The Irish Cave Rescue were fabulous. They were the ones who finally got him.
“They had to thread a line on the rock face and a line on the roof of the cave. This meant they had to drill every meter into the rock and set wall studs with hangers. That took a long time.
“Then they passed the line through and hung themselves from the roof of the cave, and that’s how they managed to get to him.
“There’s water and waves and surf at the bottom of the cave, so it was just too difficult to navigate the bottom.
“The cave is 40 meters deep, but it was a blind cave that narrowed. The further you went in, the more difficult it became. It was only visible when the boat was at a certain height in the waves.
“You cannot see directly into these caves. On both sides are rugged rocks. You had to be at a certain height to see it.
“The visibility was pretty bad there. They have no light and only have what comes out of their mouths.
“It would be too dangerous to get a boat in. You would be crushed by the rocks.
“We’ve been waiting for a lull in the weather. The boat made several attempts yesterday and today, but it was just too dangerous.
“The boys would have been slightly above him, hanging from the roof, when they managed to reach him. He was in good shape considering he was able to talk to the guys who got him out.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/miraculous-rescue-kayaker-extremely-lucky-to-be-alive-after-21-hours-trapped-in-a-sea-cave-41999052.html Miraculous rescue: Kayaker ‘very lucky to be alive’ after being trapped in sea cave for 21 hours