Belfast Telegraph

Canoe drama parents hail Lough Neagh rescue heroes

BY CLAIRE GRAHAM

THE parents of the young canoeists saved by the "unsung heroes" of Lough Neagh Rescue have praised the emergency service, while some of the children have been making light of their ordeal.

It was a Duke of Edinburgh expedition the group would never forget, cut a day short after nine of the group of 14 young people and two adults were taken to A&E to be treated for "slight exposure".

The drama began when the group's canoes began to flood in heavy weather conditions. The alarm was raised by an adult from the group who was onshore, but who later got lost and had to be located by the police helicopter before he, too, was rescued.

Duke of Edinburgh candidate Eryn McQuillan checked the weather before she left Belfast, and knew there would be thunder on Thursday, but as she packed her sleeping bag and wellington boots, thought no more about it.

Undeterred by the ordeal, her spirits were high after the expedition, joking to friends on twitter: "We were no match for Lough Neagh", and was only concerned her onesie was now swimming alone in the lough.

Others in the group were proud to have survived the ordeal – giving themselves a new title of #loughneaghsprisoners on twitter.

Eryn's parents thanked to those who had saved their daughter from the cold waters.

Peter McQuillan told Lough Neagh Rescue on Facebook: "Thanks for all your help from a very relieved Dad and Mum."

Shortly before 6pm on Tuesday, Lough Neagh Rescue received an emergency call from the Coastguard and an operation to save the group was launched.

The unsung – and unpaid – heroes picked up and brought the Belfast teenagers to safety after they got into trouble paddling back from an overnight stay on Coney Island.

The canoeists got into difficulty 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.

Craigavon's Lough Neagh Rescue picked up the group, the youngest of whom was 12. The majority were between 16-18. Two adults with the group were also rescued.

Three lifeboats retrieved the group from the cold waters in a two-hour operation in pounding rain and high winds. All were treated for slight exposure and the early stages of hypothermia.

None of the teens was seriously hurt, but were left shaken when the canoes began to fill with water.

A friend of one of the stranded adolescents told the Belfast Telegraph: "They were obviously scared when the boats started to flood but they were trained well enough to know what to do."

The trip organisers have been described as acting quickly, calmly and following all the correct procedures.

Lough Neagh Rescue chairman Paul Quinn said he was proud of the team who led the operation.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said the waters in the area can become treacherous very quickly.

"Congratulations to all the crew involved, they really are the unsung heroes of the lough," he said.

BACKGROUND

A group of teenagers and three adults had to be rescued from Lough Neagh after their canoes started to become swamped in heavy weather conditions near Ardboe in Co Tyrone on Tuesday afternoon. The Duke of Edinburgh expedition group made for shore but became trapped in reeds and the Coastguard was called. They in turn alerted Lough Neagh Rescue who located the stricken canoeists. Cut off from access to the road, it was necessary for them to be taken off by boat. Nine of the group were treated in hospital for the early stages of hypothermia.

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