Behind the news: Tony Cusack, Shannon search volunteer

Searches for two missing students in the Limerick area were compounded earlier this week by an emergency response to what turned out to be a hoax call. Tony Cusack, long-time volunteer with Limerick Marine Search and Rescue, talks about the experience of search and rescue

Great sense of pride: Tony Cusack of Limerick Marine Search & Rescue. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

Great sense of pride: Tony Cusack of Limerick Marine Search & Rescue. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

Sat, Mar 15, 2014, 01:00

‘To the untrained eye, search and rescue is very daunting, but we learn to be focused, to turn up when we’re called and get on with the job,” says Tony Cusack, who has been a volunteer with Limerick Marine Search and Rescue for 28 years.

The team were searching this week for two people who went missing in the Limerick area, Mark Casey, a 19-year-old student at NUI Galway who has not been seen since leaving a nightclub early last Saturday morning, and Steven Cavanagh, a 21-year-old student at Limerick Institute of Technology, missing since March 6th.

Their work was hampered earlier this week when they had to respond to what turned out to be a bogus call. “We don’t get too many hoax calls, but this one got a lot of attention, because the rescue helicopter from Shannon joined us. This search for a missing woman, who had reportedly jumped into the River Shannon, was called off following the Garda discovery that it was a hoax.”

The search-and-rescue volunteers are trained rescue divers, rescue swimmers and powerboat coxswains. “We are also advanced paramedics and emergency first responders,” says Cusack.

A team of up to eight volunteers – a three-person boat crew and five-person follow-on shoreline crew – respond to emergency call-outs from the fire service. As soon as they arrive at their base they are told where to begin the search.

The Limerick Marine Search and Rescue team generally search twice a day, at high and low tide, and will continue a search for up to 28 days. “We will do an underwater search for four to five days and then search in the boats. We don’t come off the river until the body is located by us or someone else.”

Cusack says that people react to the recovery of a body in their own way. “Some will be shocked or sad. Others will feel grief and compassion for the family, who are often waiting on the banks of the Shannon while the search is ongoing.”

What is remarkable, according to Cusack, is the family’s response to the team. “When the job is finished the families often get together and fundraise for our work, which is a remarkable thing to do at such a traumatic time. This drives us on and gives us a great sense of pride in what we do.”

Limerick Marine Search and Rescue, which has 21 men and two women members, is currently recruiting new volunteers.

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