‘It was pitch black’ - Rescued teenager describes night afloat with her cousin in Galway Bay

Father recalls overnight search after his daughter and her cousin went missing

Ellen Glynn (17) recovering after her dramatic rescue from Galway Bay on Thursday.

Ellen Glynn (17) recovering after her dramatic rescue from Galway Bay on Thursday.

 

A teenage girl who was rescued at sea on Thursday after 15 hours in the water has said she has “no idea what would have happened” to her and her cousin if they weren’t found by a fisherman and his son.

Ellen Glynn (17) and her cousin Sara Feeney (23) were reported missing on Wednesday evening after going paddleboarding on Furbo beach in Co Galway.

Sara Feeney

They were found the following day by local fisherman Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan (18) near Inis Oirr, the smallest of the Aran Islands, clinging to the buoy of a lobster pot.

Ms Glynn said on Friday that while she was a “bit shook up” she was feeling good. “It’s all overwhelming.” She told RTÉ radio’s Today with Sarah McInerney show that she did not think she would be allowed go paddleboarding again.

“I’m so scared of giving them [paddle boards] a bad name, it wasn’t their fault.”

She also said this had been the first time she had not brought her mobile phone in a water proof bag.

Ms Glynn said she and her cousin were only a few minutes in the water when they realised that they had drifted far from shore. The wind was rising and they were finding it difficult to get back. They shouted to attract attention on the beach, where Sara’s mother was waiting for them, but could not be heard.

They tied the two boards together and thought that the alarm would be raised quickly and they would be found that night. “We were sitting there on the boards waiting for a boat to come.”

By then it was “pitch black”. When they saw a boat in the distance they started to scream but failed to attract its attention. They also saw a rescue helicopter sweep overhead and thought it would see them because of the high-viz strips on their life jackets.

“Some of the boats came really close, but they couldn’t hear us.”

Ms Glynn said they felt “a little panicky”, but thought they had to be calm.

Initially the water had been warm, but when the sun went down it was very cold with heavy rain, thunder and lightning. “We were absolutely frozen. We were worried about how cold it was. We were shaking like leaves.”

At all times they thought they would be found, she said. Despite their predicament they managed to fall asleep on their boards “for a few seconds at a time” and when they awoke the waves “were huge, they were splashing on us.

“For a while that was scary, but we kind of got used to it. We were able to stay on the boards.”

When the sun came out it got a bit brighter, but they could not see far because it was foggy, Ellen added.

Cliffs of Moher

“We could make out the Cliffs of Moher and Inis Oirr,” she said. They realised that the waves could push them out into the Atlantic so they tried to paddle towards the island, but the waves were too high.

They were all the time looking for something to which they could tie themselves and then they spotted the buoy of a lobster pot.

“We tied our boards to it and then took turns to sleep on our boards. In hindsight it is weird that we just stayed so calm. We just thought ‘we can’t drift out there’ and didn’t expand on that.”

Ellen used the strap from her paddle board to clip their boards onto the lobster pot buoy. They tied the boards together using the boards’ leashes. “When we weren’t paddling, we were holding on to each other’s board.”

She admitted that their perception of time had become confused and they thought it was 5pm. “We began to think that no one was looking for us, then we saw a boat and started paddling like crazy. We thought they were out fishing, but they said: ‘You have no idea how many people are out looking for you.’

“We are so, so grateful. I have no idea what would have happened to us if they didn’t find us.”

The vessel, the Olivers’ 7m potting boat called the Johnny O, found them before noon on Thursday a few kilometres south of Inis Oirr after correctly working out where they might be by analysing wind speed and direction and tidal movements.

Ms Glynn said she felt completely fine on the board, but that when she stood up to try to get into the boat she fell over and knocked Sara off her board.

“We were very shaky. They [the Olivers] wrapped us up and gave us drinks.”

Sara Feeney (23) taken off the Coast Guard helicopter at UCHG on Thursday. Photograph by Aengus McMahon
Sara Feeney (23) taken off a Coast Guard helicopter at UCHG on Thursday. Photograph: Aengus McMahon

While she remains in hospital, Ms Glynn said she feels fine, but there was an issue with her muscle enzymes. She hopes to be released from hospital on Friday or Saturday morning at the latest.

She said the buoyancy aids they had been wearing had saved their lives. “We would have been panicking if we didn’t have them.”

The teenager’s father said he had feared the worst by Thursday morning when the women had been missing almost 12 hours.

Johnny Glynn recounted the frantic search he and his wife Deirdre had conducted on Wednesday night and Thursday morning along the Co Clare coastline across the bay from their Galway home on the Newstalk Breakfast show.

The young women usually went swimming or paddleboarding on Silver Strand beach, which is close to their homes in Knocknacarra, but it had been closed due to Covid-19 so they went to Furbo beach, which they would not have known well, he said.

His wife had called him later, concerned the girls had drifted out to sea. By the time he arrived at Furbo it was dark and he couldn’t see anything.

Ellen Glynn’s parents, Johnny and Deirdre. Photograph: Hany Marzouk
Ellen Glynn’s parents, Johnny and Deirdre. Photograph: Hany Marzouk

His sister-in-law Helen, Sara’s mother, had called for help, and he was concerned as “every minute they were going further and further out”.

Mr Glynn said he then called a friend who works with the ferry to Doolin, Donie Garrihy, who told him he could see on the satellite that there were boats already out in the search, but Mr Glynn wanted a helicopter involved. By 10.30pm a helicopter had joined the search.

Mr Glynn and his wife stayed on the beach until 1am and then decided to drive around the coast to Co Clare to conduct a search on beaches there.

“We thought it most likely that was the way they were heading because of winds,” he said.

The couple arrived in Clare at 3.30am, but it was 5am before first light, and they searched beaches from Ballyvaughan to Kinvara. “It was a rough night, with heavy rain,” he added.

Not hopeful

Mr Glynn said he wanted to get as many people as possible out searching as he knew there was a narrow window of opportunity between first light and last light.

“We were messaging people, asking them to get out searching,” he said.

By 9.30am the couple returned to Galway to tell their three younger daughters that Ellen was missing, explaining that “we had to be fairly honest”.

Mr Glynn admitted that at that stage he was not hopeful and said “I just wanted to find them and I was just hoping that they were together”.

At lunchtime they were informed that Ellen and Sara had been found. After talking to Ellen he found out that they had tied their paddle boards together, about which he said: “I don’t know how they did that.”

Mr Glynn said that when he saw the girls getting off the helicopter and in the hospital they were both wearing little hats which had been given to them by Patrick and Morgan Oliver.

Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan, who rescued the two women off Inis Oirr island, with some of Patrick’s RNLI colleagues on their arrival back at the Galway RNLI Lifeboat Station at Galway Docks. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan, who rescued the two women off Inis Oirr island, with some of Patrick’s RNLI colleagues on their arrival back at the Galway RNLI Lifeboat Station at Galway Docks. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

“They were hungry and the Olivers gave them whatever food they had on board and flavoured water,” he said.

Mr Glynn said he wanted to thank everyone involved in the search and rescue for their help.

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