14 teens rescued in Lough Neagh drama
Ten people taken to hospital after canoes capsize in severe weather
Fourteen teenagers have been rescued from Lough Neagh after their canoes capsized in driving rain.
Three lifeboats operated by Lough Neagh Rescue retrieved the teenagers, who were as young as 13, and two adults from the cold water in a two-hour operation in pounding rain and high winds.
Nine of the schoolchildren and one adult were treated at Antrim Hospital for slight exposure, while others were treated at the scene.
A third adult – the man who first raised the alarm – was also rescued. He was on the shoreline at the time he called for help, but he then got lost and was eventually located by the police helicopter and picked up by one of the lifeboats.
It is believed the group had been paddling back from an overnight stay on Lough Neagh's Coney Island when they ran into trouble.
The canoeists got into difficulty some time before 6pm in the area of Blackers Rock, two-and-a-half miles south of Ardboe in Co Tyrone, which is known locally as a treacherous spot.
At the height of the operation, approximately six ambulances, a police helicopter and a special rescue team were assisting on the shore at Battery Harbour in Coagh – while Lough Neagh Rescue's three lifeboat crews worked to retrieve them from the water.
Meanwhile, staff at Coagh's Battery Bar, who watched the rescue unfold, lit fires for casualties as they were returned to the shore.
Stephen Ryan, training officer for Lough Neagh Rescue, who was involved in last night's operation, said it was a fortunate coincidence that a support lifeboat which is equipped to deal with emergencies was stationed at Battery Harbour at the time.
The rescue started shortly before 6pm, when Lough Neagh Rescue received an emergency call from the Coastguard. "Two lifeboats went from here and another lifeboat came from Kinnego Marina, near Oxford Island," Mr Ryan said.
"The conditions were very bad – very heavy rain. The whole thing took around two hours. The most severe casualties were brought back to the Battery Bar, which was made into a triage room."
He said all the teenagers were distressed and suffering from severe cold.
"The kids were as young as 13, but most of the them were between 16 and 18."
It is not clear whether the group of 16 canoeists – two of whom were adults – were on a school trip or an activity organised by a community group.
One eyewitness said the weather conditions on the lough had deteriorated rapidly.