Irish Coast Guard to hold training exercise with ‘overdue’ paddleboarder and swimmer in Galway Bay

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Almost two years after a major overnight search for two missing paddleboarders in Galway Bay, the scene is to be recreated during a training exercise organized by the Irish Coastguard.

Weather permitting, the simulated mission involving helicopters and land units from the Irish Coast Guard, the RNLI and the Marine Institute will test modeling programs used to track drifting objects and locate search areas.

The paddleboards were not set up in the program used by the Irish Coastguard when the alert was raised against paddleboarders Sara Feeney and Ellen Glynn on August 12, 2020.

The two women had spent more than 15 hours at sea and more than 17 nautical miles from their original location in Furbo, when they were found the following day by father and son fishermen Patrick and Morgan Oliver.

An extensive night search involving Irish Coast Guard helicopters, lifeboats and rigid inflatables had failed to locate them in a 200 square mile sea area.

It wasn’t rocket science, Patrick Oliver said afterwards, explaining that he and Morgan followed the path of the northeast wind to the mouth of the bay.

Weather permitting, this week’s training exercise will involve launching a paddle board with a 60 liter tank – filled to match the weight of a person on board – on Monday evening (May 16).

A marker buoy simulating a swimmer will also be dropped to drift out to sea.

After the “paddleboarder” and “swimmer” are flagged as “late”, a “Security” alert message will be played.

The Galway Bay Inshore Lifeboat and Costello Bay Coast Guard will be tasked and assigned search areas – based on the SARMAP modeling system which can predict the movement of drifting survivors and calculate a specific search area.

The SARMAP system was successfully used when the Rambler 100 capsized off the Cork coast while competing in the 2011 Fastnet Yacht Race.

After the search for the two women was successfully completed in August 2020, Galway West TD Catherine Connolly and then Water Safety Ireland chief executive John Leech raised questions about the long delay.

Ms Connolly has called for an internal review of the incident by the Irish Coastguard to be made public.

This week’s training exercise will be coordinated by the Valentia Coast Guard, and the Irish Coast Guard’s Rescue 115 helicopter based in Shannon has been invited to participate.

The RNLI’s Aran Islands Lifeboat, Costello Bay Coastguard and Doolin Coastguard will also be on hand.

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