Natasha strikes gold as Olympic torch alights at Shannon

Mike Dwane

Reporter:

Mike Dwane

EVERYTHING from lizard eggs to rhinoceros horns has been discovered during security checks at Shannon Airport over the years.

EVERYTHING from lizard eggs to rhinoceros horns has been discovered during security checks at Shannon Airport over the years.

And the latest item to turn up at the airport was nothing other than the Olympic torch, found during a routine check last Thursday.

The torch was found in the baggage of an executive from Coca-Cola, one of the sponsors of London 2012, after a British Airways flight from Orlando to the British capital had to divert to take on fuel.

Some of Ireland’s most famous athletes are expected to take part in the official relay when the torch visits Dublin and Belfast next month ahead of the games.

But Shannon Airport duty manager Natasha Naughton O’Keeffe struck gold by getting her hands on the iconic emblem six weeks before it was due to visit these shores.

In so doing, she beat boxing heroes Wayne McCullough and Michael Carruth to the punch. The medallists from the Barcelona games in 1992 were supposed to have been among the first people to handle the torch on Irish soil, according to the Olympic Council of Ireland’s plans.

“I certainly wasn’t expecting to be holding the Olympic torch when I came into work this afternoon but it’s certainly made the evening shift a lot easier,” said Ms Naughton O’Keeffe, from Gort, County Galway.

“The whole world will be looking at the Olympic torch on the opening night of the games in July and I’ll be able to say I carried it too.

“It’s a great honour to have been the first place in Ireland to have the Olympic torch this year. I know it’s scheduled to come to Ireland in June and there’s a lot of effort going into organising its visit but we can always say we had it first in Shannon.

“We have had many firsts here since the airport was established and this is definitely right up there.”

The British Airways flight was forced to make the unscheduled stop in Shannon after problems with air traffic control in Canada meant the aircraft had a longer-than-expected flight.