Lucky to be alive fisherman tells of rescue

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A DECKHAND has told how he and his father clung to each other in freezing Scottish waters as their fishing boat sank beneath them.

Micheál Ó Conghaíle paid tribute to the the Scottish Coastguard for rescuing him and four others from the Irish vessel Iúda Naofa on Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile the search and rescue winchman who pulled three of the men to safety has described the terrifying moment the boat went down.

 

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Micheál Ó Conghaíle (right) standing beside Finley Macleod of the Stornoway Fishermen’s Mission; Patrick Walsh (second from left) and Mairtín “20” Ó Conghaíle (left)

 

Amazing footage emerged of the moment the crew, clinging on to the stern of the boat in force 6 winds, fell into the rough seas of the North of Scotland.

It took just 35 seconds for the boat to go under – where is now lies at the at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean – 50 mile off the Western Isles.

“We started fishing about 8pm Monday night about 30 miles Northwest of [North] Rona,” explained the 32-year-old deckhand from Inis Mor, Galway.

 

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“After we took the fish aboard we were taking in water. It’s not unusual for wooden fishing boats.

“We were minding the pumps but the water got the better of the pumps in the end.

“We could see we couldn’t win the battle so we called the Coastguard.”

 

 

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After lowering another pump the Coastguard decided it was time to winch the crew to safely and told them gather at the stern.

Micheál continued: “The Coastguard said from the moment all five of us were on the stern it took just 35 seconds to go down.”

The crew were tossed into water, sliding down the boat precariously close to the still moving propeller.

“She went over,” Micheál said. “I heard a pop of the life raft coming up and two of the crew climbed on.

 

 

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“She didn’t hit me – I knew I wasn’t caught but I was in the water and there was a bit of rope tangled. I pulled that off. I was frightened she might pull me down with her.

“When I was in the water and holding onto Dad I saw a seagull eating a fish. He was picking at something and I was looking at him thinking ‘ This is just a normal day for you’.”

Micheál, his 63-year-old father Mairtín “20” and another deckhand were winched onto the helicopter one by one.

 

 

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They were taken to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis and treated for mild hypothermia and cared for by the Stornoway Fishermen’s Mission.

Two other crewmen made it to the nearby fishing vessel, the Star of Hope, on the emergency raft.

Praising the efforts of the Coastguard Micheál said: “We are eternally grateful for them rescuing us.

“The Fishermen’s Mission were amazing. They couldn’t do enough for us.”

 

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The terrifying experience had not put the 32-year-old off fishing.

He added: “I’ll be going back out when the weather is suitable again.”

Darren Jones, the winchman who pulled the men to safety, was just 15ft from the fishing boat when she went down in seconds – almost within touching distance of the men clinging onto the stern.

 

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He had already attached a stablising line but quickly let it go to stop himself and the helicopter being dragged down to the depths of the Minch.

“As I made contact with the vessel she went down,” said Jones. “At that point a wave came in and whipped four men off the stern.”

The other crewman fell into the sea seconds later.

“Once she started going I let go of the highline to stop me and the helicopter going down with her,” he explained.

 

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(left to right) Darren Jones Winchman/Paramedic; Dave Kenyon Co-Pilot; Sam Welsteed TC/Winch operator and Debdash Bhattacharya Captain.

 

“I was within 15ft when she went.

“The thing that was going through my mind was that two of the guys entered the water without life jackets on. They had survival suits on but there wasn’t time for them to get life jackets on.

“The skipper’s son was holding onto his father who did have a life jacket on.”

 

 

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He continued: “It was a first. I’ve been doing Search and Rescue since 2003. It’s certainly up there in the top two of ‘crikey what happened there’.

“I’ve seen footage sinking vessels before but to see it first hand was extraordinary.”

 

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