An Irish coast guard helicopter pilot has described the five-year-old rescued from the Shannon estuary yesterday as “a very lucky little girl”.
Cpt Sean Murphy said coastguard helicopter Rescue 115 had been on a training mission off the Kerry coast when they got a call from Valentia coast guard radio telling them of a child in difficulty drifting out to sea on an inflatable toy.
The coast guard also alerted the Kilrush RNLI boat to respond to the call, he said.
“As we were pretty close, it took us 10 minutes to arrive at the scene which was at Ballpoint just around the corner from Ballybunion. We quickly located a little girl drifting out to sea into choppier waters, she was drifting off the shoreline, she seemed to be sitting on an inflatable toy, the lads described it as a blow up jet ski. She was wearing a swimming togs,” he told RTÉ’s News at One.
“We had to do a quick assessment of the situation and decided the best thing to do was to get our winchman down to her. As we were approaching to put the winchman down to her, she came off the actual toy, fell into the water.
“At that stage we were about 10-20 yards away, Jim O’Neill our winchman made an instant decision to come off the cable and swim to her, when he did he secured her, at that stage we waited for the RNLI lifeboat coming from Kilrush, which was about 5-10 minutes away, to pick them up rather than the riskier recovery to the aircraft.
“We remained on scene until the lifeboat had them both safely on board, we landed on the shore, we waited for them to come to us and then we took the child and her mother to Kerry university hospital to be checked over, on landing in Kerry she was smiling and chatting and she was thanking Jim for saving her. All went well.
“I think the stars really aligned for her, she was a fortunate little girl - being there in 10 minutes was a pretty quick response,” he added.
Cpt Murphy said that while conditions were very good yesterday there was a fairly strong current pushing her offshore and out the estuary. “There was about 20-30 knots of wind as well, she was sitting up on this little inflatable toy, so she was moving quite quickly away from the shoreline.
“It wouldn’t have taken her too long to get out to the mouth of the Shannon estuary. We were all very lucky on this one. We think it was as a result of the choppier waters that she was going into that caused her to come off of the actual toy itself. She was very, very lucky.”
Cpt Murphy warned that sea temperatures at this time of year are still very cold and that winds can change quickly. He warned that inflatables are particularly difficult and can be “whipped off shore” very quickly.
In this case it had been fortunate that the alarm was raised very quickly and Rescue 115 happened to be in the area.
On Friday morning, a spokesman for Valentia Coast Guard said they understood the girl had remained in hospital overnight "but was in good health" after the rescue.