Ten sailors injured after NI regatta hit by squall
Casualties mostly suffering hypothermia after 20 went overboard on Strangford Lough
John McPoland of the North’s ambulance service who said it was ‘absolutely amazing’ officers weren’t dealing with a possibly tragic situation. Photograph: Gerry Moriarty/The Irish Times
Contestants in the GP 14 World Championships can be seen in the background during a practice run yesterday.
Ten sailors have been injured after a regatta in Northern Ireland was hit by a squall.
The casualties were mostly suffering from the effects of hypothermia after more than 200 people competing in 87 sailing dinghies were hit by a sudden change in the weather on Strangford Lough, the Maritime and Coastguard agency said.
Initial reports suggested scores of people ended up in the water after a spate of capsizes but Coastguard chiefs later scaled back the figures saying 20 people were believed to have gone overboard.
Among the injured were two teenage boys, a woman, believed to be in her 30s, who injured an arm, and another sailor who suffered a head injury.
It is understood one person was in the water for about 20 minutes and most of those who ended up in the water were treated for the effects of hypothermia.
Two people with minor injuries were taken to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald, on the outskirts of east Belfast, after being treated by paramedics at the East Down Yacht Club near Killyleagh.
The dinghies hit by the squall had been competing in the GP14 World Championships with competitors from local clubs, the Irish Republic, England and Australia among other countries.
John McPoland of the Northern Ireland ambulance service said they received an alert about 2.15pm that up to 100 people were in the water in Strangford Lough, when dozens of boats capsized.
He said the rescue operation was carefully managed by the Coast Guard, and everybody was safely recovered from the water. He said a number of people were treated at the scene for hypothermia, and just two were taken to hospital, one with a suspected fractured wrist, and the other with a knee injury.
Mr McPoland said it was amazing “that no one was seriously injured; it could have been much much worse, thank God it wasn’t. All that most of the people needed was a bowl of soup, a change of clothes, and a nice warm shower.”
Belfast Coastguard was first contacted just before 2pm reporting that some of the boats had capsized, while others were struggling to cope in the strong winds and squally showers.
Liam Colquhoun, watch manager at Belfast Coastguard, confirmed the search and rescue operation had been a success and was called off within three hours.
“We have now been told by our rescue units on scene that everyone has safely returned to shore and that no one is missing,” he said.
“The weather conditions on scene have been pretty treacherous, with winds gusting up to 60mph. We’re very thankful that everyone has now safely returned.”
The Bangor and Portaferry Coastguard rescue teams, the Portaferry and Newcastle RNLI lifeboats, the Irish Coast Guard helicopter with the helicopter from RAF Valley were sent to the scene.
Ambulance crews set up tents to treat the injured at the shoreline.
The South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland launched a major incident and emergency response plan after reports of the squall hitting the regatta.
The GP14 races were due to run until Friday.
Two races had been due to be held today but only one was completed before the squall struck dozens of boats competing around islands about three miles offshore.
Strangford Lough is an area affected by powerful tides and currents. It is a short distance south west of Belfast in Co Down and is popular with all sorts of watersports enthusiasts and a dedicated canoe trail has been laid out along its waters.
Organisers of the GP14 had attempted to begin racing yesterday but after putting out on to the water the event was called off when rain and strong winds associated with the tail end of former Hurricane Bertha created choppy seas which they said “caught out some of those less used to” the lough.
Four boats capsized on Sunday and two suffered damaged rudders before the competition was postponed.
Tom Daniel (20) from Halifax in Yorkshire was thrown into the water by the force of the squall after his dinghy capsized. He and his crew mates were quickly rescued.
Mr Daniel said “some people appeared to be in difficulty, but overall, a smooth rescue operation took place.”
Lucia Nicholson from Sligo managed to get her dinghy ashore without capsizing. She said it was a “sudden big squall” that caused most of the boats that capsized to turn over.
She said the conditions were very difficult but she was looking forward to competing in other races during the rest of this week.
Additional reporting: PA