‘A lucky escape’: Woman rescued from sinkhole in sea off west Cork

Coast Guard alerted after passerby saw clothes and heard cries on Dunworley Beach

A woman in her 30s is recovering after she was rescued from a sinkhole where she became trapped while swimming alone in the sea off west Cork on Thursday afternoon.

The woman was swimming in the sea at Dunworley Beach near Butlerstown when she was swept into the sinkhole in the headland just off the slipway at about 4.30pm.

A passerby contacted the Valentia Coast Guard after they spotted the woman’s clothes on shore and heard cries for help.

Valentia immediately launched a rescue operation and mobilised the Irish Coast Guard units from Seven Heads and the Old Head of Kinsale.


Valentia also tasked the Irish Coast Guard Sikorsky helicopter, Rescue 115, based at Shannon. The Courtmacsherry RNLI lifeboat, Frederick Storey Cockburn, also arrived to the scene.

The Frederick Storey Cockburn remained on standby 100m from the sinkhole while Rescue 115 hovered overhead as the Irish Coast Guard began planning the operation.

Meanwhile, two members of the Seven Heads/Old Head of Kinsale Coast Guard team climbed down to the cliff face of the sinkhole and reached the woman.

They got the woman back up the cliff to the headland, where she was handed over to the care of paramedics who wrapped her in protective sheeting to help her warm up.

The woman, who had spent up to 90 minutes trapped in the sinkhole, was uninjured but cold and after a period of observation in the ambulance was discharged from paramedic care.

Difficult conditions

An Irish Coast Guard spokesman said the woman had been extremely fortunate that her clothing had been spotted by the passerby who heard her cries for help and raised the alarm.

“The woman had a lucky escape and thankfully it all ended well because sea conditions were difficult at the time, with a very strong swell which prevented the woman making her own way ashore.

“We would urge people not to go swimming alone in winter unless they are experienced all-year-round swimmers and even then, they should have someone ashore watching out for them.”

Courtmacsherry RNLI spokesman, Vincent O’Donovan, paid tribute to all the emergency services who responded to the call-out and came to the woman’s assistance.

“It was great to see the total dedication of so many voluntary persons from all the rescue services today and everyday in these difficult times, who drop all and rush to the aid of others in difficulties.”

Mr O’Donovan said it had been an extremely busy start to 2021 for Courtmacsherry RNLI with nine call-outs since January 1st and he urged people to show great caution when visiting coastal areas.

People visiting the coast should have a plan, check the weather forecast, tide times and read local hazard signage, and keep a close eye on family members on shore and in the sea, he said.

People should never allow family members to swim alone or use inflatables in the sea and life jackets should always be worn in a boat, he said.

Anyone who falls into the water unexpectedly should remember to fight their instinct to thrash around, he said, adding that they should lean back, extend their arms and legs, and float.

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times