Tragedies on River Shannon prompt response team to patrol

Aine Fitzgerald

Reporter:

Aine Fitzgerald

Following the recovery of three bodies from the River Shannon over the Christmas and New Year period, each Saturday night eight members of a search and rescue service patrol the area around the River Shannon.

Following the recovery of three bodies from the River Shannon over the Christmas and New Year period, each Saturday night eight members of a search and rescue service patrol the area around the River Shannon.

Travelling on foot, in a boat and in a van, they are on the look-out for distressed people for whom life’s struggles have become too much.

“Over the Christmas period it was very busy on the Shannon. One girl went in Christmas morning and she was found in the water a couple of days later. A man went in three days later - he was rescued. Another man went in New Year’s Day. Unfortunately he drowned as well.” The fire brigade also recovered the body of a woman from the river in the New Year.

Trevor Corbett who makes the bleak remarks is unit officer with the Raheen-based Countrywide Emergency Response Team (CERT) which was founded a year and a half ago to help other rescue services search for missing people on both water and land.

The decision to conduct night-time patrols of the river on Saturdays, he says, is to try to prevent any incidents where people go into the water.

When the response team does encounter an individual who shows signs of being in trouble, the trained members attempt to “talk the person down”.

The first thing they will do is try to encourage the person to move away from the water’s edge.

“We would have a friendly conversation with them and try and assess where they are at.”

If it’s felt that there is cause for concern then a discreet call will be put in to the other emergency services by another member. If there is an immediate danger a rescue boat will be positioned on the water.

“Basically, we just keep them chatting and keep them calm until we get the rest of the emergency services there and then we give them all the details for the help they can get and hope it will work.”

Jimmy Connors is chairman of Limerick Marine Search and Rescue which marked its 25th year in existence last December. Jimmy is on the dive team which means he is on the front line when it comes to recovering bodies from the water.

“We have emotions as well. The majority of us are married. We have our own system for dealing with this type of stress. The more experienced members would be placed at the most sensitive parts of the dive line,” he explains.

A range of sophisticated equipment including twin cylinders and full face masks are used by the diving teams underwater.

“We have communications from diver to diver and from diver to surface as well. There are certain code words that we use to one another.”

The first thing that comes to mind on recovering a body, according to Jimmy, is that it will bring some form of closure for a grief-stricken family who may have been waiting hours, days, even weeks for news of their loved one.

“We show the utmost respect to anybody who would have attempted suicide or actually done it. We would always say a little prayer over the body. That is a very sensitive thing but it’s important for us as well.”

In total there were 12 calls over the Christmas period to Limerick Marine Search and Rescue which has 20 qualified volunteers - six new volunteers are currently in training.

Tony Cusack, dive supervisor says that thanks to the joint service being provided by the city’s rescue and emergency services, from November 2010 to November 2011 there were no river drownings in Limerick city.

“The fire service has done extremely well in preventing people from losing their lives in the river. They have between 20 and 25 people rescued from the river over the year. Between the gardai, fire brigade, ambulance service and ourselves - as a backup - people’s lives have been saved.”

The Samaritans in Limerick are on 061 412111, or nationally 24 hours a day on 1850 609090. Pieta House, a centre for the prevention of self-harm or suicide, is on 01 601 0000, see www.pieta.ie