Bessie rescues triathlete from drowning

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Published on: July 12, 2009

Date: 12/07/2009

Last Sunday’s West Cork Triathlon, which began in Baltimore, probably had the most extensive safety coverage of any such event in the country. Organisers paid tribute to the support of all the safety volunteers including, RNLI, five safety boats with safety divers, five kayakers, Civil Defence, An Garda Siochána, West Cork Rapid Response Unit, Dr. Pat Bailey, local ambulance paramedics, Skibbereen and District Motor Cycle Club who had safety bikes out on the triathlon route, and approximately 60 marshals in total.

Prompt action and quick thinking by RNLI personnel secured the safety of one swimmer, who had got into difficulties shortly after the start of the event. There were 260 entrants overall and the usual safety briefing for the swim, cycle and run had taken place shortly after 8 a.m. when all the marshals were despatched to their areas.

The swim started at approximately 8.45 a.m. over a 1,500-metre course in good conditions, with 200 swimmers entering the water. John Kearney, one of the founders of the West Cork Triathlon club, takes up the story:

“The local inshore RNLI lifeboat was on exercises in the swim with myself on board as helm, J. J. Cotter and Tim O’Donovan aboard, supported on shore by Kieran Collins. After ten minutes, the main bunch of swimmers were well spread out leaving the weaker swimmers at the back.

“We started pulling out a few weak swimmers at about 9 a.m., because they had over-estimated their ability and found the swim difficult. We started looking for others. If a swimmer is in difficulty they are supposed to lie on their back and to put their hands up.

“Their wetsuit will keep them afloat and a wetsuit is a requirement for the swim. At 9.08 a.m., J. J. Cotter, one of the crew in the lifeboat spotted a hand up in the middle of the group and described the hand as next to a blue buoy. Straight away, I knew it was not a buoy, but a swimmer in a blue hat in difficulties and immediately despatched the two crew into the water to assist.

“It was apparent that the swimmer was in an advanced stage of drowning. I got the boat alongside him and the crew dragged him to the side of the lifeboat and so I pulled him on board and started first aid. It was apparent that the swimmer had swallowed a lot of salt water and was choking.

“With the crew back into the boat, we rushed him ashore, alerted the ambulance and the doctor met us at the pier at 9.11 a.m. He was treated at the pier and then taken to Bantry General Hospital, where he had a swift recovery and was discharged the following day.

“The man, aged 34, was lucky there was great support team on standby and with the quick reaction of the RNLI team, Civil Defence, Dr. Pat Bailey and the West Cork Rapid Response Unit he made a full recovery.

“It just proves the importance of plenty of pre-training in order to complete all these disciplines successfully. We received a call from the family of the swimmer thanking us for our prompt and professional actions, which saved his life.

This is an extract from an article written by Carol Gilbert for the Southern Star 18 July 2009

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