05/07/2010

Dramatic Boat Rescues In High Winds

Stormy weather has led to dramatic rescues taking place from two separate vessels that ran into trouble at the weekend.

While power has now been restored to more than 10,000 homes across Northern Ireland after high winds brought down power lines on Sunday, the winds of up to 70mph nearly led to disaster for two separate boat crews.

The coastguard was forced to trace a distressed vessel in Co Fermanagh by following its mobile phone signal.

A 999 call from the Motor Cruiser 'Wee Rascal' on Lough Erne called on all the investigative powers of Belfast Coastguard as the vessel wasn't even close to its reported position.

The vessel was on the Broad Reach part of Lower Lough Erne attempting passage from the calmer waters of the sheltered Kesh River to the county town of Enniskillen in windy, wet conditions when it was forced to call 999 to ask for assistance.

Desperate measures followed when, despite an extensive search of the area around its reported position neither the Enniskillen RNLI Inshore Lifeboat nor Erne Coastguard Rescue Teams could find the vessel.

Because the vessel had no flares, flash lights or VHF Radio on board to show rescuers where it was, Belfast Coastguard resorted to mobile phone technology.

A locator iPhone application finally gave rescuers the vital latitude and longitude they needed.

The vessel was finally located 25 miles away from its reported position, dangerously drifting amongst the rocky shoreline off Gubnagole Point - also known as Eagle Point - in the exposed Broad Reach being battered by high winds and waves.

It was brought away from the rocks by the skill of the Enniskillen RNLI Inshore Lifeboat crew and taken to the safety of Belleek marina.

Coastguard Watch Manager Steven Carson said: "A combination of luck and technology saved these four people from imminent danger.

"They had charts onboard but obviously no real idea of how to get to their destination or how to report their position in an emergency.

"Vital hours were wasted eliminating one possible location after another, time that we wouldn't have had if the vessel had struck the rocks and sunk.

"I hope that this experience will help the crew to realise why navigation training is essential for all mariners, whether you're on a Lough or the open sea."

Meanwhile, eight people had also to be been rescued from the stricken leisure motorboat - this time near Blackhead Lighthouse on the northern shores of Belfast Lough.

Bangor RNLI Lifeboat was launched at about 3pm on Saturday and sent to the craft, which was flooding and in danger of sinking.

(BMcC/KMcA)

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