Res­cue at Low Rock

KEN PHE­LAN TALKS TO THE SAVIOUR AND THE SAVED AS A DRA­MATIC RES­CUE OF A DROWN­ING MAN AT LOW ROCK IN MALAHIDE IS HON­OURED WITH IR­ISH WA­TER SAFETY AWARD

Fingal Independent - - NEWS SPECIAL -

NEW Year’s Day is tra­di­tion­ally a time of joy and cel­e­bra­tion, a time spent with fam­ily and friends, but for one Malahide man, Jan­uary 1 of this year al­most ended in tragedy. Mick Fen­nell was swim­ming at Low Rock, Malahide with fel­low Port­marnock Triathlon Club mem­ber He­len O’con­nor when, in bit­ing cold wa­ter, he suc­cumbed to the sea and al­most drowned.

A sea­soned swim­mer, run­ner and triathlon com­peti­tor, Mick was over­come dur­ing what for him was just a short dis­tance swim.

Thank­fully, fol­low­ing He­len’s and friend Si­mon Mcfetridge’s swift in­ter­ven­tion, Mick, who had lost con­scious­ness and stopped breath­ing, was brought to shore be­fore be­ing at­tended to by Niall Mcar­dle and emer­gency ser­vices.

Here, He­len re­counts the fright­en­ing events of that New Year’s Day, which so eas­ily could have re­sulted in loss of life: ‘We have a What­sapp group for the club, and on New Year’s Day, some­one put a mes­sage up ask­ing if any­one wanted to go for a swim. As it turned out, it was just my­self and Mick who turned up.

‘It was a beau­ti­ful day, it wasn’t too choppy but it was re­ally re­ally cold. There’s a tri­an­gle of buoys there, and a lot of peo­ple would swim around them. But given the cold, my­self and Mick said we’d just go to the first one and back.

‘The eti­quette would be that you swim out to the buoy and make sure ev­ery­one is al­right be­fore go­ing any fur­ther, so half­way, I stopped and said to Mick ‘are you ok?’, and he said he was fine, so we kept go­ing.

‘You don’t swim side by side, so you would stop and check at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals. Ev­ery­one would swim at a dif­fer­ent pace any­way, and be­cause Mick was be­hind me, I didn’t know he was in trou­ble.

‘When I got back to shore and looked back, I saw that Mick was in dif­fi­culty.

‘It was very, very cold, and some­times when you’re swim­ming in the cold it just saps your en­ergy.

‘He was close to the shore, but there’s a very big shelf, and his head was un­der the wa­ter.

‘I knew he was drown­ing, and I could just see the back of his head in the wa­ter.

‘I started scream­ing and shout­ing, and ran back down to jump in, but when I got to him, I couldn’t drag him to­wards the shore, be­cause he was just too heavy.’

As He­len strug­gled in the wa­ter with Mick, Si­mon just hap­pened to be walk­ing by the road­side, and see­ing He­len in dis­tress, ran down to the beach.

To­gether, He­len and Si­mon man­aged to bring Mick onto the shore, where a crowd of twenty to thirty peo­ple had gath­ered. Mick, at this stage, wasn’t con­scious or breath­ing.

He­len said: ‘We were calling for some­one to do CPR, be­cause I don’t know it too well my­self, and I thought it would be bet­ter to get some­one who knew how to do it.

‘Some­body said they did, and started pump­ing on his chest. I just knew from a friend that you never stop pump­ing on the chest, that you keep go­ing, and they kept go­ing while we called an am­bu­lance.

‘Even­tu­ally, dur­ing the CPR, wa­ter came up from Mick’s mouth, and he started breath­ing, but he was still un­con­scious.

‘He started groan­ing at one point, which made me re­ally fear that there was brain dam­age or some­thing, af­ter be­ing de­prived of oxy­gen for so long.

‘He was hy­per­ven­ti­lat­ing and was very cold. Peo­ple from the crowd were putting tow­els and blan­kets on him try­ing to keep him warm.’

A friend of He­len’s, walk­ing by the beach, saw the com­mo­tion, and came down to see what was hap­pen­ing. He­len knew where Mick’s car was, so she and her friend took the keys from the wall where he had left them, but when they got there, the car door wouldn’t open.

Mick’s phone was in­side the car, and He­len could see a mes­sage on the phone through the car win­dow, pos­si­bly from his wife or another fam­ily mem­ber, but she couldn’t an­swer.

She called a mem­ber of the com­mit­tee to see if any­one had Mick’s con­tact de­tails, be­cause when he went off in the am­bu­lance, she says, he was still un­con­scious, and she ‘wasn’t sure if he was go­ing to sur­vive’ or what con­di­tion he was in.

One of the com­mit­tee mem­bers from the club drove to Mick’s house to speak with his wife, who then, panic-stricken, fol­lowed the am­bu­lance to Beau­mont Hos­pi­tal, where Mick re­mained for four days be­fore even­tu­ally mak­ing a full re­cov­ery.

He­len says: ‘Mick wasn’t wear­ing a wet­suit, and I would al­ways wear a wet­suit, so I would say it was cold wa­ter shock.

‘He said he doesn’t re­call him­self what hap­pened, ex­cept that he re­mem­bers swim­ming and ev­ery­thing be­ing fine, then sud­denly be­ing in trou­ble.

‘He said that he was calling for help, but he wasn’t, so I think he was a bit deliri­ous at that stage.

‘I don’t know much about it, but I’ve heard that even with good swim­mers, they think they have loads of en­ergy, but the en­ergy is just gone - they’ll move their arms but they’re not mak­ing any progress.

‘Mick is in­volved with Ath­let­ics Ire­land and is a very good swim­mer and run­ner, and takes part in triathlons, so he’s a very fit man.

‘He did his first triathlon since New Year’s Day in Septem­ber, so it just shows how care­ful you have to be.’

It was He­len’s, Si­mon’s and Niall’s quick-think-

ing and brav­ery that pre­vented what could have been a ter­ri­ble tragedy. Speak­ing to The Fin­gal In­de­pen­dent re­cently, Mick (58), ex­pressed his heart­felt thanks and grat­i­tude to all three, and also gave some per­sonal ad­vice on swim­ming in the open sea:

‘I’m con­vinced it was sim­ply a hy­pother­mia is­sue, but there is a small is­sue with the heart that has to be mon­i­tored now on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

‘I’ve had a num­ber of tests done since what

hap­pened, and it turns out there’s a cer­tain amount of scar tis­sue on the heart.

‘The doc­tors couldn’t see if that was from the event it­self or whether it was his­tor­i­cal. Be­ing an ath­lete and run­ner for thirty-odd years, there was prob­a­bly some residue there

from other things in the past.’

He said: ‘There was another chap who also helped that day, but I haven’t spo­ken to him yet.

‘He’s gone over to the States now as far as

I know, but I’m hop­ing to meet up with him over Christ­mas. I nom­i­nated He­len, Si­mon

and Niall for what they did that day, which

I’m ob­vi­ously very grate­ful for.

‘It would have been Niall Mccar­dle who did

CPR on me, who I sup­pose re­ally took charge.’ He added: ‘My wife was obliv­i­ous to the whole thing; it was only when some­one made con­tact with the club that she was told that some­thing had hap­pened and that she’d need to get down to Beau­mont quick.

‘She had been on the beach her­self about half an hour pre­vi­ous, and had just gone home, so she didn’t know any­thing un­til she got the call.’

Mick said he’s still do­ing ‘a lit­tle swim­ming’ now, although he’s now more cau­tious, and makes sure there’s al­ways some­one around when he’s swim­ming.

He said he now never ven­tures out too far, and al­ways wears a wet­suit.

When asked, Mick gave some valu­able and ex­pe­ri­enced ad­vice for swim­mers, par­tic­u­larly those who swim at Low Rock: ‘Id say to peo­ple go­ing out in the sea, def­i­nitely don’t swim alone, make sure there’s other peo­ple swim­ming with you.

‘I’ve done it my­self in the past, so I’ve prob­a­bly been a bit fool­ish. Even ex­pe­ri­enced swim­mers can get into dif­fi­culty. I would say, re­spect the wa­ter, and never swim alone.’

He­len O’con­nor, Si­mon Mcfetridge and Niall Mcar­dle were last week awarded The Ir­ish Wa­ter Safety ‘Seiko Just in Time Res­cue Award’ in recog­ni­tion of the coura­geous and life-sav­ing ac­tions they took last New Year’s Day.

The award was pre­sented at Dublin Cas­tle by Min­is­ter of State, Sean Can­ney TD.

I KNEW HE WAS DROWN­ING, AND I COULD JUST SEE THE BACK OF HIS HEAD IN THE WA­TER. I STARTED SCREAM­ING AND SHOUT­ING, AND RAN BACK DOWN TO JUMP IN, BUT WHEN I GOT TO HIM, I COULDN’T DRAG HIM TO­WARDS THE SHORE, BE­CAUSE HE WAS JUST TOO HEAVY.

Niall Mcardele, Si­mon Mcfetridge and He­len O’con­nor re­ceiv­ing their awrard from Ir­ish Wa­ter Safety.

He­len O’con­nor and Si­mon Mcfetridge

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