Lahinch Sea Rescue takes 40 minutes to launch

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Inquest to probe delays after mother of three drowns
                        


Speedier Rib launch could have averted tragedy at Lahinch
Doolin Coast Guard vessel first on scene
The surfing community in the Lahinch area is expressing anger at delays which may have contributed to a mother of three's drowning at Lahinch last month. The website Aran-Isles.com can reveal that it took at least 40 minutes for Lahinch Sea Rescue to launch its rescue vessel on the night of the tragedy - July 29 last. The Rib, an inflatable semi-rigid boat is kept locked up in a shipping container across from the promenade car-park of one of Ireland's busiest beaches. A locked bollard  provides a further obstacle to its speedy launch.
A local surfer - who requested anonymity - said he had requested a criminal inquiry into the needless delays. Doolin Rescue was on the scene with a boat before Lahinch Rescue on the night of the tragedy according to a local source.

      
  

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Side of shipping container and sign beside locked bollard
By the time Lahinch Sea Rescue managed to extract its Rib from a rusty locked shipping container (see photos) the victim, Fiona Ring, (39) had tragically disappeared from sight.
Doolin's rescue vessel eventually discovered the dead woman's body. The official Doolin account of the rescue effort does not even mention the Lahinch Sea Rescue  involvement - so  poorly is it  rated by Ireland's marine rescue professionals. [Correction: Doolin Coast Guard point out that their blog report did in fact mention that "Lahinch Sea Rescue and a fishing trawler were also on scene." see here]

  
 
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Front of shipping container where Lahinch Sea Rescue keeps its boat

Mrs Ring first got into difficulties when caught in a rip current while swimming around 9 pm on 29 July last. She had taken to the sea with her young son during a break in the bad weather , just as it was starting to get dark. Notoriously there are few signs warning inexperienced swimmers of the dangers of rip currents at Lahinch and swimmers are often in the water once lifeguards go off duty.
 The pair apparently got into difficulties when caught in a powerful rip current on an outgoing tide. They panicked and soon became exhausted.



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Clare County Council sign - almost illegible 

Valuable minutes were then lost as the victim's husband attempted a rescu using a life vest from the promenade. When that failed he raised the alarm and a call went to Ennistymon guarda station. As is normal, when lifeguards are off duty, the guards called Valentia Rescue Centre in Kerry  (which is in the process of being scaled down as a major marine rescue co-ordination centre). It was only then that the official Lahinch  Sea Rescue unit was alerted.
Lahinch  is home to dozens of world class surfers and swimmers and  they complain that the  rescue system employed by Lahinch Sea Rescue is inappropriate to the towns needs. Rather than a Rib - ideal for rescuing boaters at sea - Lahinch needs a white water rescue unit with a jetski - this is the standard equipment on busy French beaches for example.
 Experienced surfers at the scene say they were prevented from entering the water to rescue the woman as the Lahinch Rib was being launched.
The inquest into the woman's death will probe whether these delays contributed to her death as many in Lahinch believe.
Beside the alleged incompetence of the Lahinch rescue attempt, there are concerns that there is no provision for a volunteer lifeguard system at Lahinch. Once the official Clare County Council lifeguards finish work, swimmers in difficulty are left to the mercy of an emergency call to the Gardai and the efforts of Lahinch Sea Rescue
"Where were the lifeguards when there were swimmers in the water? Why is there not a volunteer lifeguard system for the busy summer months when inexperienced people often get into difficulties in waters which can be treacherous? Why are there no signs warning people about the dangers of rip currents and how to safely get out of a rip? Why are there no signs on the beach with rescue numbers beyond a near illegible county council sign?"
These are the questions which veteran surfers from the village are asking as questions continue to swirl about the failure to rescue the woman, Fiona Ring, (39) of Bruff County Limerick.
"'People drown here unnecessarily because, locals fear that to alert people about the dangers would create a "Jaws Syndrome"' said another experienced local surfer.
According to witnesses there were significant delays in launching the Lahinch rescue Rib boat. It appears to have taken some 40 minutes to get the vessel into the water by which time the woman had disappeared.
Ms Ring  was with her husband Diarmuid and their nine-year-old son at Lahinch beach as it was getting dark around 9 pm.  Mrs Ring is reported to have shouted to her husband to take the boy ashore before coming back to help her.
When Mr Ring got out of the surf his wife was not behind him as he expected. He then reportedly ran to the promenade and took a life-belt before returning to the sea to try to locate her. Valuable minutes were lost at this point by his failure to call the emergency services, it is understood.
Soon afterwards he called the gardaí at Ennistymon, who notified the coast guard. Why they  did not notify  the "Lahinch Sea Rescue" service at the same time is a mystery. The procedure calls for the national rescue centre to be alerted first - but local swimmers and surfers ask why many of those with training in lifesaving in the Lahinch area were not alerted at the same time? There are reports that some surfers were prevented from entering the water to attempt a rescue.
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Another meaningless Clare County Council sign
One question is why is there not a volunteer lifeguard service - like the volunteer fire services that protect small towns across America?
Many swimmers do not appear to know that once the official County Clare lifeguards knock off at 7 pm that they are at the mercy of the rescue service in Valentia to coordinate matters if they re pulled by a rip current?
Lahinch Sea Rescue leader Tomsie O'Sullivan was reportedly called by Valentia Life boat station. More valuable minutes were lost as he made his way from his premises to the scene. There he met Mr Ring and later told reporters: "I didn't have to ask him anything, I just knew because he was very distressed."
Complaints about the competence of Lahinch sea rescue are frequent and the tragic loss of life has added for calls for changes in the way the rescue unit is run. Local surfers say a Rib is completely unnecessary on a beach like Lahinch and that what is really required is a Jet ski which could be launched in seconds.
Surfers also complain that the as yet unfinished Lahinch Life Guard station does not have enough space to store a rescue ski of adequate length.
There are also concerns that no provision has been made for showers for surfers and swimmers who use the beach year round.
After Lahinch Sea Rescue eventually launched a request was made of a fishing boat in the bay to assist in the search. The search was originally concentrated near the lifeguard tower where the woman was last seen. Emergency vehicles gathered on the beach and volunteers combed the shoreline.
Doolin Coast Guard spokesman Mattie Shannon said the crew spotted the woman in the water and took her on board. They then transferred her to a helicopter which was standing by. She was flown to University Hospital Galway but was pronounced dead less than 20 minutes later.
A postmortem was carried out in Galway  and gardaí say a file will be prepared for the County Coroner, who will hold an inquest at a later date.
When Clare County Council began charging for parking at Lahinch it declared that the revenue would be used to improve beach safety. However lifeguards are only on duty during limited hours in the summer in Lahinch. They are on duty from 11am to 7pm daily and have a list of emergency contact numbers. A new 25ft lifeguard tower is under construction. However the tower does not have sufficient storage space for a lifesaving skiff.
Clare County Council's water safety officer Liam Griffin said it was important that people obeyed the flags indicating whether it was safe to swim at a particular location at a given time. It was equally important that people only swam at guarded beaches.
But the fact is that in the absence of clear signs warning swimmers of the potential danger, inexperienced swimmers will go into the water. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there are many unofficial rescues of swimmers and sufers who get into danger.
Conditions in Lahinch on the night of the drawning were poor, with high winds and heavy rain at times. "While Lahinch is a very safe beach," Mr Griffin said, "people must know their limitations and follow safety guidelines."
Almost 12 months ago a 19-year-old man from Clontarf, Dublin, drowned at Lahinch after going swimming in the early hours after a night socialising.
Last week, Munster and Ireland rugby player Paul O'Connell helped a 22-year-old surfer to safety after her board hit rocks in a rising tide. O'Connell, who was also surfing at the time, lifted the woman to safety after rough seas tossed her on to rocks as she tried to reach shore.
The Rings had three children, two girls and a boy.
 Read more here

6 Comments

I would like to say being a professional member of the search and rescue sector and happing to be in Lahinch on the evening of the above operation I would strongly advise the previous commenter's to check the facts around there accounts of times and operational response
I did and all of your accounts are off the by a half hour and the Gardai are well aware of this .I would just like to add didn't the great surfers from around that area set off a massive rescue attempt a the base of the Cliffs of Moher a few years back and then refused help from rescue 115 out of Shannon. I will finish by saying the rescue personal did what the could on the evening in question its always the case when something like this happens that people are looking to lay the blame at somebody's door and everyone has there own take on how solve it.

Fiona Ring's tragedy has left three orphan children behind and you are bickering about the faults of "the great surfers from around that area."
Let's move away from the blame game then and ask how the next tragedy can be avoided.
Does Lahinch need a volunteer live-saving unit to help out when the lifeguards are off duty - about four hours a day during the summer?
Should the lifeguards have access to a jetski (like lifeguards on surf beaches around Europe)and is the Rib an appropriate vessel for the beach?
Should there be prominent signs warning visitors about dangerous rips - when the lifeguards flags are not flying?

This is not about 'blame game' when something tragic happens,
the reality is that experienced local surfers some who have been surfing Lahinch over 20 years have indepth and valuable knowledge of the ever present dangers at Lahinch beach.
Their concerns are in regard to Lahinch Sea Rescue & how its run as an organisation.
It was suggested to Lahinch Sea Rescue some years ago that the use of a Jetski was the way forward, information was provided showing locations around the world where Jetskis are used in surf conditions.
Lahinch Sea Rescue at that time did not want to know anything about Jetskis for rescue.
Over the years Surfers have rescued numerous people who got into difficulties
swimming or novice surfers caught in rip currents (which are always present).
These rescues go unreported & undocumented.
Yes prominent signage should be dispalyed at all entry points to the beach.

What I want to know is how many more people must drown at Lahinch before the authorities at Clare County Council takes their responsibilities seriously?
Surely those responsible for water safety can apply the "best standards" used at other EU beaches.
Surely the business-community of Lahinch, the so-so busy surf schools, the booming Golf Club, the over-flowing hotels, pubs that never close and the well-stocked shops of the town can show that they care for the safety and well being of the visitors who keep their businesses humming.
There must be a case here for community leadership?
It hardly serves the towns reputation to have a couple of needless drownings a year. How many have drowned in the Sealife swimming pool since it opened. Is it possible that sixteen lives have been lost there?


I am a member of the Doolin Coast Guard and would like to correct one of the sentences in this blog.

In the Sentence "The official Doolin account of the rescue effort does not even mention the Lahinch Sea Rescue involvement - so poorly is it rated by Ireland's marine rescue professionals."

Our account of the rescue effort ( http://doolincoastguard.com/blog/?p=94 ) does indeed mention the presence of Lahinch Rescue on the night. Also I feel that the comment "so poorly is it rated by Ireland's marine rescue professionals" is being attributed to us, where this does not necessarily reflect our views and we do not rate other teams. Also we are volunteers not professionals.

I would appreciate it if you could clarify,correct or remove this.

Thank you

I. Lambe

Jem Casey writes:
My apologies to Doolin Coastguard for our error. Our report has now been corrected to reflect the fact that Lahinch Sea Rescue were cited in Doolin Coastguard's report.

i dont agree with the blame game,we must all learn from this tragedy and that of other people that have lost their lifes in the sea,we should all focus on how to avert such events from occuring again.we must also acknwledge the huge work of the rescue services and the risk to their own personal safety.

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