The two men who died in the Ironman Ireland event in Youghal, Co Cork have been named locally as a Garda investigation begins.
The competitors have been named as Brendan Wall, who was in his mid-40s and originally from Co Meath but was living in Solihull in the UK, and Ivan Chittenden (64), who travelled from his home in Toronto, Canada to take part.
The men had been taking part in the swim portion of the event when they separately got in to difficulties. They were removed from the water and pronounced dead by medical personnel.
Gardaí were present in the control room of the Ironman event all day and were at the scene of the tragedy.
Gardaí will now prepare files for the coroner’s court but there is no suggestion that the incidents are being treated as a criminal matter. Postmortems will take place on the two men at Cork University Hospital on Monday.
Cllr Sinead Sheppard of Fine Gael was in Youghal to cheer on her husband Eamonn who was taking part in the sporting event.
She said that she heard of the separate deaths of the men half way through the day.
“It’s just so sad because no one ever thinks it is going to be them. You are holding your family a little bit tighter. The swim was well over and we were in the cycle section when the news just got around.
“Everybody is absolutely shocked. Thousands of people come out for an event like this. The atmosphere is normally so joyful. It is a bit quieter now. People are celebrating but at the back of your mind you are thinking somebody has lost their lives.”
Cllr Sheppard, who hails from Cobh, said that most people who completed the event had mixed feelings about how to celebrate once the news of the deaths came through.
“You just think to yourself I am here with my family today on what is meant to be a celebration but all you can keep thinking about in the back of your head is that there is other families here that thought they were going to be celebrating and now there is tragedy. I can’t even believe it.
For their families we are thinking of them. The atmosphere is a little bit flat. Of course it is because everyone is thinking that it could have been their families in the water.”
One competitor, who declined to be named, said that he heard fellow participants shouting for help from the water but that he didn’t realise the extent of the tragedy which had occurred until he completed the event.
Meanwhile, Stephen Lynch from Bandon in West Cork said he took part in the full Ironman event and found out about the fatalities afterwards.
“When you are in the race you don’t realise [anything is happening]. It could have been anybody. I suppose it was challenging going out [at the start of the swim]. It was okay the rest of the way.
The swim started here [on the beach]. The tide was in and [we] went out at an angle to an orange buoy so we were facing the waves. So that was a difficult part. It is hard for the people organising it too. ”
Mr Lynch was competing in his second Ironman event. He was delighted to finish it and said that it was a “challenging” day.
“What happened to those men is desperately sad. There was a guy telling me that they were at an event like this in Lanzarote and it happened over there. The water can be unforgiving.
“It is a fantastic event. The crowds coming in. The atmosphere is electric. So it was sad this happened.”
Irish couple Aoife and Nigel Travers, who are now based in Perth, but are originally from Castleknock in Dublin participated in the event.
Nigel said that when deaths occur in Ironman events “it is usually in the swim”. He said that he knew of a person dying in an Ironman event in France a couple of weeks ago and that the believed that there was a fatality at a similar event in Germany on Sunday. The couple extended their condolences to the families of the deceased.
The swimmers were among several thousand competitors who entered the water at Claycastle Beach. Some were competing in the 113.13km half triathlon whilst others were taking part in the full 226.3km race.
The half triathlon event had to be postponed on Saturday in the aftermath of Storm Betty. It was rescheduled for Sunday along with the main Ironman event.
In a statement the organisers for Ironman said that they “were deeply saddened to confirm the death of two participants”.
“During the swim portion of Sunday’s race, safety personnel provided immediate medical attention upon recognising the athletes were in need of assistance. We share our greatest sympathies with the family and friends of the athletes and will continue to offer them our support as they go through this very difficult time.”
Cork County Council also offered its condolences following the “tragic loss” of the two participants.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of the athletes at this incredibly difficult time. Our thoughts are with those who have been affected, and we are currently offering every assistance required to the Ironman Group and all those impacted.
“We wish to express our gratitude to the response agencies involved, including our dedicated Fire and Emergency personnel, for their unwavering efforts during this difficult time.”
The Office of the State Pathologist has been informed and postmortem examinations are due to be carried out on Monday at Cork University Hospital.
Around 3,000 athletes have been competing across the Ironman 70.3 Ireland, Cork and full distance Ironman Ireland races. 50 per cent of the full distance athletes and 75 per cent of the Ironman 70.3 athletes come from Ireland. The remainder of athletes hail from countries such as the US, Germany and France.