Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 23 November 2014

Freak squall blamed for Westmeath boat capsize that left one angler dead and another missing

David Warnock lost his life in the tragedy
David Warnock lost his life in the tragedy
John Trimble remains seriously ill in hospital
Daryl Burke, who is still missing

The angling tragedy which has left one man dead, a second missing and a third fighting for his life may have been caused by a freak squall.

The men, all from Co Armagh, were on a fishing trip to Lough Ree in the Irish midlands when their boat capsized in bad weather.

Eyewitnesses described how a freak squall roared over the water shortly after the group set out.

The dead man has been named as construction worker David Warnock, who was 27 and from Richhill. His funeral will be held at Mullaghbrack Church of Ireland outside Markethill on Monday.

The missing man is Daryl Burke (30) from the Portadown area. A father-of-three, his wife is due to give birth to their fourth child in the next fortnight.

A third man, John Trimble (60), who is from Markethill, is critically ill in hospital.

They were part of a six-man expedition from the Portadown Pikers angling club who left Hodson Bay, in the south-west corner of Lough Ree, at 3pm on Thursday.

The men departed in two Dell Quay Dory boats and planned to travel about five miles towards Carnagh Bay to set up a campsite.

Locals said the weather deteriorated as the group set off.

It is believed the second boat carrying three other men, including father and son Clifford and Stuart Forbes, turned back after a short distance into the journey.

David McEnroe was the last person to see the men leaving the harbour and recalled warning them about the conditions.

Mr McEnroe said: "I was chatting to them and had voiced a concern about the conditions.

"I had a look at the boat and all their equipment. There was an awful lot of equipment and I just said to them: 'Lads, look it's deadly dangerous'.

"The nature of the lake is it can take you in seconds and the weather can be upon you so quickly, and I don't think the lads realised it."

Mr McEnroe said the group waited for a break in the weather before deciding to press on.

"The last words I said to the guys were: 'Lads, enjoy your fishing; be safe, be careful'."

As he watched the boat head towards Carnagh Bay Mr McEnroe again became concerned for their safety and called in an emergency.

"The last I saw of the three lads was the boat going around the point and I knew at that stage it was a recipe for disaster," he said. "I was only hoping someone would get to them."

Tommy Byrne watched the tragedy unfold from the harbour and told how heavy wind and hail suddenly swept in.

He soon found himself in the middle of the rescue operation, bringing Mr Trimble, who had been pulled from the water, into his campervan and wrapping him in a blanket until paramedics arrived. He was taken to Portiuncla Hospital in Ballinasloe and is in a critical condition. Mr Warnock was found a short distance away and was rushed to University Hospital Galway in a critical condition, but died in intensive care.

There was no sign of Mr Burke.

Mr Byrne said he believed the weather had contributed to the tragedy, adding: "I remember looking out at the lake and seeing these big white horses of waves."

He added: "It just appeared to me that the squall got them, hit their boat and sank them.

"It could have happened to anybody. It was just one of those things that came out of nowhere."

Colin McCusker, an Ulster Unionist councillor related to Mr Warnock, said: "As a family we are devastated. We are just in limbo because they are three hours from home and we are just trying to prepare for what we need to do over the next few days. We're just in shock at the minute."

A search operation for Mr Burke was restarted at first light yesterday but was called off as light faded and conditions worsened last night.

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