Belfast Telegraph

Rip tide Fermanagh teens saved from drowning by Donegal hero

By Brett Campbell

A Co Donegal hero who had "no choice" but to dive off a cliff to save a group of Fermanagh footballers who were swept out to sea by a rip current says the teenagers are extremely lucky to be alive.

Surf instructor Owen Murphy (26) had laid a selection of boards outside his Bundoran Surf School - on a hilltop beside the notorious stretch of beach -in preparation for an afternoon lesson on Saturday.

But around midday he was alerted to a group of nine Fermanagh Super Cup NI players who were clinging to rocks for safety in the deceitfully calm waters at Tullan Strand.

He was one of four local surfers to take the plunge to save the stricken youngsters.

"Initially we thought it was only three or four people - and since Sean (a fellow surfer) was already in a wetsuit I told him to grab my boards," Owen told the Belfast Telegraph. "It wasn't until we jumped into the water that we realised there was actually more of them. They are extremely lucky that this wasn't so much worse."

The boys, aged 16 to 17, had been training on Tullan Strand earlier on Saturday morning before wading into the water to cool down. Emergency crews administered first aid to eight of the boys after they were brought to shore, and a number of them were taken to Sligo University Hospital as a precautionary measure after swallowing water and suffering cuts and bruises.

Fast-acting Owen has praised shocked onlookers for their help and the quick response of the RNLI crew who quickly arrived in an inshore lifeboat, and the search and rescue staff on-board the Sligo 118 helicopter. "Everyone here is really impressed with how fast the emergency crews reacted, but we didn't know they were coming, so we had no choice but to jump in," he explained. "Access from down at the beach is very poor, launching a rescue effort from the beach would have been very time consuming.

"Members of the public were great, I have been told they made 15 calls to the coastguard and they didn't hesitate to throw boards off the cliff when we called out to them, everyone at the beach really pulled together."

Chairperson of County Fermanagh Super Cup NI, Dessie Kerr, has confirmed that all the boys are safe but said the club's main priority is ensuring they are given support following the traumatic ordeal.

"Our attention at this minute is making sure that the boys are looked after and, in time, we will look at exactly what happened," he said. "We are glad and relieved that all involved have now returned home safely and we will be supporting all affected, in any way that we can, over the coming days."

The quick-thinking owner of Murph's Surf School has called for more beach signs and better education in schools. "They didn't even have wetsuits, it's very lucky that no one was seriously injured," he said. "It helps to be physically fit but that is no substitute for knowing your environment, which will save lives. You should swim parallel with the beach towards the waves, but it's hard to do that because instinct tells you to make for dry land."

Corporal Gavin Carey tragically lost his life at the same location last summer. The Irish soldier's body was recovered by divers on August 28 after a five-day search operation.

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