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
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