Miraculous rescue of duo swept out to sea recalled in documentary

Cousins rescued 15 hours after setting out on paddle boards from Furbo beach, Co Galway

Ellen Glynn and Sarah Feeney on RTÉ’s Late Late Show after their ordeal in 2020. File photograph: RTÉ

Ellen Glynn and Sarah Feeney on RTÉ’s Late Late Show after their ordeal in 2020. File photograph: RTÉ

 

A year after a summer’s evening paddle-board outing turned into a nightmare, Sara Feeney and Ellen Glynn have recalled their miraculous rescue following 15 hours clinging to their boards after they were swept out to sea.

In an RTÉ radio documentary Miracle in Galway Bay the story of the perilous adventure and rescue of the cousins then aged 23 and 17, is told after they went for a spin on Wednesday, August 12th, 2020.

It was intended to be a short outing, and they wore only swimming togs and their life jackets with no phones or location devices, as they set off on their inflatable paddle boards at 9.30pm from Furbo beach in Co Galway.

Ms Glynn, now aged 18, had been paddle boarding for several years while her cousin had only taken it up that year. Having gone out two nights earlier they knew how much time they had before dark and as they took off Sara’s mother, Helen Feeney, walked the family dog on the beach.

But a northerly breeze turned northeasterly, gained in strength and overriding the tidal effect pushed them out into Galway Bay.

Unable to paddle back to shore or to raise the alarm themselves, they tied their paddle boards together, held on to each other and tried to stay positive as they waited for rescue, at first optimistic, then losing confidence when the wind and waves increased in strength, the temperature plummeted and they were subject to a thunder and lightning storm.

The documentary, by journalist Lorna Siggins, details the unfolding rescue, from raising of the alarm, through the appeal for vessels and locals to join in the search of the beaches and coastline covering 500sq km.

Fifteen hours after the paddle boarders set out they were found by fisherman Patrick Oliver and his son, Morgan. File photograph: RTÉ
Fifteen hours after the paddle boarders set out they were found by fisherman Patrick Oliver and his son, Morgan. File photograph: RTÉ

Fifteen hours after they first set out they were found by commercial fisherman Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan, 3km southwest of the Aran island of Inis Oírr clinging to floats attached to crab pots, they had come across just two hours earlier.

When they found the floats, Ms Feeney says “we were steady then and stable and able to take a break from the paddling and hoping to save some energy, obviously not knowing how much longer it would go on for”. And at that stage there were “muscle cramps, and really cold and shaky and sore and when you’re that cold . . . you’d be afraid if you nod off or fall asleep at what stage does your body kind of just say, ‘right, enough is enough’ and zone out or possibly not even wake up.”

An internal review by the Irish Coastguard later confirmed that the Ellen and Sara were carried 18 nautical miles or 33km from their Furbo starting point.

Speaking of her thoughts during that night in the ocean water, Ms Glynn says: “I remember when we saw the shooting stars. I’ve always wanted to see them. So that was pretty cool and then the plankton in the water . . . I was kind of thinking in my head like, ‘am I getting to see all this stuff now because I’m going to die’? But I didn’t worry about it because I just had to stay thinking positive.”

Ms Feeney spoke of the process of coming to terms with what happened. “Sometimes I just want to talk it out and I’m so lucky . . . then other times you just feel like ‘no, that wasn’t me, that never happened’. And it’s just trying to find the balance and getting back to normal.”

The documentary is available to listen back to on RTÉ radio