Transatlantic oarsmen close to breaking world records capsize

Brian Conville and Joseph Gagnon winched to safety 165 miles off west Cork coast

An Irish-Canadian rowing pair rescued by the Irish Coast Guard off the southwest coast had been close to setting three world records before their capsize.

Dubliner Brian Conville (25) and Joseph Gagnon (20) from Quebec, Canada, were winched to safety some 165 nautical miles off the west Cork coast on Friday by the Irish Coast Guard's Rescue 117 Waterford-based helicopter.

The pair had spent 38 days at sea and had rowed 1,495 nautical miles west to east, said to be the most challenging transatlantic crossing.

They had been some hours with their upturned boat when an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) attached to the craft activated.


Heavy seas are believed to have capsized the boat, which is designed to be self-righting and unsinkable. The pair sat on the upturned hull, and relied on the EPIRB signal to raise the alarm.

The pair were said to be in “good spirits” and had a “bit of a shock” , but were airlifted to Tralee hospital in Co Kerry for treatment.

Ocean Rowing Society executive director Tatiana Rezvaya-Crutchlow said she was very happy they had been rescued, but very sad for them as they had "been doing so well".

Some eight rowers have been lost on transatlantic routes since the society began keeping records, and five of the eight were on this particular route – including Chicago cardiologist Nenad Belic (62), whose body was never found after a capsize some 260 miles off the Irish coast in 2001.

“Brian and Joseph would have been the first pair to complete this route, the youngest team, and Joseph would have been the youngest oarsman on this route also,” Ms Rezvaya-Crutchlow said.


“So they are safe, which is most important, and they have had an adventure, and they were well-prepared and this was not their fault,”she said.

Irish Coast Guard search and rescue operations manager Gerard O’Flynn said it “highlights that if you can raise the alarm and stay afloat then you stand a very good chance of being rescued”.

Mr O'Flynn praised the work of the helicopter crew, along with the Air Corps which provided top cover, and Valentia Coast Guard.

Separately, the Irish Lights vessel Granuaile has arrived in Blacksod Bay, north Mayo,with the Marine Institute's remotely operated vehicle (ROV) on board for the resumed search at sea for the two missing Rescue 116 helicopter airmen, Paul Ormsby and Ciarán Smith.

Irish Underwater Council search-and-rescue divers are to assist in the effort, along with the Garda Water Unit, according to Supt Tony Healy of Belmullet Garda station.

A fishing vessel trawled the seabed over the past week, and the Granuaile will focus on areas south and west of Blackrock island where the Irish Coast Guard helicopter crashed with the loss of four lives on March 14th.

Also in north Mayo, two sailors were taken to hospital after their French-registered vessel ran aground close to Belderg harbour. The two men, believed to be French nationals, were not injured. They were offered medical treatment as a precautionary measure.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times