‘Only for them my daughter wouldn’t be here:’ Father thanks young men after rescue

US coast guard member joins rescue as girl (6) falls off toy near Portmarnock beach

The father of a six-year-old girl swept out to sea on an inflatable toy at Portmarnock beach in Dublin has thanked four young men for saving his daughter’s life.

The man, who declined to be named, said he was in the water on Monday shouting and watching helplessly as his daughter was swept out to sea on the inflatable, knowing he would not be able to reach her.

At the same time Walter Butler (21), a member of the United States Coast Guard, had arrived on the beach along with his relatives Eoghan Butler (18), Declan Butler (18) and Alex Thomson (24) and they heard the man screaming.

Walter said they saw a little girl on a “pink floaty” on the water screaming for help as she was swept out to sea by the current and wind.


The four young men raced into the water before Walter decided it was more strategic for him to remain on the beach “to be in my best shape to provide first aid,” a decision which he said was part of his coast guard training .

‘Fell into the water’

“What happened next frightened everyone at the beach. It appeared the girl fell into the water off the ‘floaty’,” he said.

“You could see the brave little girl fighting for her life, her head bobbing under and breaking the surface, she clearly could not swim. She was doing everything she could to stay alive.”

Walter said it took almost 20 minutes for them to reach the girl who at this stage was a long way from the shore.

“Luckily she gave it her all and Eoghan had enough time to grab her. Not a second to spare. A moment later, Declan and Alex are there to help”.

Next was the long swim back to shore during which the young men took turns swimming as far as they could with the girl in their arms keeping her head above water.

“They went into the water at around 2.10pm and the girl was back on the beach at around 2.50pm. We have all been swimming competitively since we were 6 or 7 years old so to say we are good swimmers is an understatement.”

Once they got to shallow water Walter ran out to meet them and got the child back to her father and paramedics who had also arrived on the scene.

“We know as time goes on, her guardian angel will continue to look over her.” said Walter on Tuesday.

The girl’s father told The Irish Times he was shocked at the speed with which his daughter was swept out to sea and said the young men had saved her from drowning.

“Only for them my daughter wouldn’t be here today. They were so brave. They should get an award. My daughter was taken to hospital but she is safe and well at home now. I’d really like to thank those men.”

He also warned parents of the dangers of inflatable toys on open water.

‘Floating killers’

Irish Water Safety has described the inflatable toys as “floating killers” and has called for their removal from supermarket shelves.

Chief executive of Irish Water Safety John Leech said toy kayaks were certified as safe in the shops – for use as toys.

But he said they should not be considered canoes, kayaks or boats of any kind. He also said in Europe where these toys were widely sold, wind and water conditions were frequently very different to those in Ireland.

He said rip currents, wind and tidal conditions were all very different in Ireland compared with conditions in large lakes across Germany, for example.

The four men said they had recently arrived from Virginia in the US to visit relatives in Dublin and celebrate the life of their grandfather who passed away recently.

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien

Tim O'Brien is an Irish Times journalist