Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Photographer from Northern Ireland John McCourt dies in fall from cliffs in Donegal

An Irish Coastguard helicopter hovers over the scene of the tragic accident at Fanad Lighthouse
Photography enthusiast John McCourt with his late wife Sharon John McAteer

An amateur photographer from Northern Ireland fell to his death off rocks beside a landmark lighthouse during a force eight gale.

John McCourt (59) tumbled 50 metres into a gully at the western side of Fanad Lighthouse in north Donegal.

The Antrim native had been in the area with a friend taking pictures when the incident happened.

He was a highly respected member of the Antrim Camera Club and had won many awards.

His wife Sharon died from cancer just three months ago.

Two rescue boats, two fishing boats and the Sligo 118 Coastguard helicopter raced to the scene of the accident just before 3pm yesterday.

However, crews aboard the Lough Swilly RNLI lifeboat and the Mulroy Coastguard vessel were initially unable to reach the photographer due to high seas and strong winds.

A member of the RNLI team, with a rope attached, managed to swim to where the photographer lay in the gulley and was able to bring him to the Coastguard boat.

He was airlifted from the rocks by helicopter but was pronounced dead later at Letterkenny General Hospital.

The incident took place on one of the worst days of the summer in Donegal with rain and high winds all day.

"Conditions were very rough at the time," said Joe Joyce, of the RNLI Swilly team.

"There was a force eight gale and seas were very high.

"One of our team entered the water and brought the man to the Coastguard boat and then ashore, where CPR began." Fanad Lighthouse attracts photographers and tourists from all over the country.

It is a working lighthouse and the grounds are currently closed to the public although there are plans to open it for tourists next year. John McAteer, who lives next to the lighthouse, witnessed the rescue operation.

"Conditions were atrocious at the time," said Mr McAteer, editor of the local newspaper the Tirconaill Tribune.

"It is a spectacular location and that's what attracts so many people to the area, particularly photographers.

"But it is also an extremely dangerous for people not familiar with the cliffs.

"The rescue crews did an incredible job recovering the man from the gulley because it was so windy at the time.

"There were huge waves.

"It's sad to hear the man has since passed away."

Charlie McAleer, chairman of Antrim Camera Club, paid tribute to Mr McCourt who was secretary of the club.

"I knew John for about five or six years – this is a huge shock to myself and the club," he said.

"In the past he would have been a skydiving photographer and he did have some fairly spectacular photographs that he had taken during his skydiving time when he would have jumped out of planes.

"He was a private man and he was certainly a dedicated photographer and he was great at what he did."

Mr McAleer said Mr McCourt seemed to have spent a good amount of the summer travelling.

"I would have seen him at the different club and committee meetings," he said.

Photography was a big part of his life and was an accomplished photographer during the days when he was skydiving.

He had a son, Christopher, and four grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been released.

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