Belfast Telegraph

Record-chasing rowers rescued after boat capsizes in Atlantic Ocean

Two ocean rowers have been rescued from their boat capsized 165 miles off the Irish coast.

Brian Conville, 25, from Dublin and Joseph Gagnon, 20, from Quebec, Canada were found clinging for life in the Atlantic Ocean after their boat failed to right itself.

The pair were winched to safety by an Irish Coast Guard helicopter crew on Friday.

Mr Gagnon's mother Claire Martin had just flown in to Dublin from Canada when a phone call came through that a rescue mission was underway for her son and his rowing mate.

She said: "It was a lot of stress but we were in touch and in contact with the Irish Coast Guard so we knew that they were trying to do their best."

The families of the two rowers came together and waited for about two hours to hear whether their sons had been rescued.

The Sikorsky Rescue 117 helicopter based in Waterford carried out the mission about 165 miles west-south-west off Mizen Head, the most southerly point in Ireland.

"Everything is okay. The boys are okay," Ms Martin said.

"We have very little information. It's hard to tell but the information we have is that they are okay. They have hypothermia but they are in the heat now."

The alarm was raised after the rowers' emergency position indicating radio beacon, known as an Epirb, was set off when the boat capsized.

The first indications of an incident came at about 10.30am, a spokeswoman for the Ocean Rowing Society said.

The rescue mission was complete at lunchtime and the rowers were airlifted to Tralee Hospital in Co Kerry for treatment.

Mr Conville and Mr Gagnon had set themselves a challenge of rowing west-east across the Atlantic and were on course to enter the record books for being the youngest pair to complete the voyage from Canada to Ireland.

The rowers left St John's, Newfoundland, at midday on June 13.

It is understood they were aiming to land in Co Cork in the coming days after injuries including bruises and blisters curtailed their original ambition of rowing to France.

The two men's families travelled from Dublin to visit them in hospital.

Ms Martin was waiting to disembark a plane after landing in Dublin Airport when the first call came through about the emergency.

She said: "It was the (Irish) Coast Guard and they had received a distress message from the boat so one helicopter and one plane left to try and find the guys.

"We waited for two hours with Brian's family and then we had news that they had found the boat and it was capsized but the two boys were in contact with it."

The Irish Coast Guard's search and rescue manager Gerard O'Flynn said: "It highlights that if you can raise the alarm and stay afloat then you stand a very good chance of being rescued."

Mr O'Flynn praised the work of the helicopter crew and officials at the incident control offices on Valentia and the Irish Air Corps which provided top cover support .

A spokeswoman for the Ocean Rowing Society said the most important thing was that the rowers had been found.

She added: "But it is such a shame really, only 160 or so miles from Ireland.

"Whoever tries to row an ocean, first of all they must be a great person. I believe both of them did their best."

A retired cardiologist, 62-year-old Nenad Belic from Chicago, disappeared and was never found after his ocean rowing boat capsized in a storm 260 miles from the Irish coast in 2001.

The families of the rescued rowers said they had indications of something going wrong when trackers stopped feeding back information.

It is thought the boat capsized at about 5am and the rescue did not take place until 3pm, with the pair clinging to the boat in the Atlantic for up to eight hours.

Mr Conville's mother Cathy, from Raheny in Dublin, spoke to her son as she travelled to the hospital.

"They are very good," she said. "They are kind of probably in shock that it happened but they are in very good form."

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