Two Women Swept Out to Sea Found Clinging to Lobster Pot for 15 Hours

Two women stranded for 15 hours in the Atlantic were rescued by fishermen on Thursday morning, after a paddleboarding outing gone wrong. They survived by clinging to a lobster pot.

Sara Feeney and her cousin Ellen Glynn were enjoying their time at Furbo beach in County Galway, on the west coast of Ireland, when they decided to go paddleboarding.

The pair frequently went swimming and paddleboarding on Silver Strand beach, but their usual bay was closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. They didn't know Furbo beach well.

"I was just walking the dog on the beach while they went in for the paddle board on the beautiful evening that we had," said Helen's mother Sarah Feeney to Irish news channel Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTE).

Buoy floating in the sea
A fisherman's buoy floats in the Mediterranean sea. Two women were found stranded in the Atlantic hanging onto the buoy of a lobster pot for 15 hours. VALERY HACHE / AFP/Getty Images

The pair went into the ocean at around 9 p.m. Then the evening turned into the "stuff of nightmares," said Sarah, who saw the pair from Knocknacarra quite far out to sea. The weather changed and a sudden north wind had blown the women away from shore. The pair eventually disappeared from view and night drew in.

"It just went from the most serene of pictures to a little bit of anxiety and sort of then you're telling yourself, they'll be grand," said Sarah.

When the paddleboarders didn't return, Sarah was extremely worried and alerted the lifeguard. A major search operation got under way, including not only the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) but the Aran life boat, Coast Guard helicopters and the Civil Defence, plus local sailors and boaters, who decided to join the search party.

Luckily for Sara and Ellen, seasoned boatman and fisherman Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan joined the search party. Oliver had previously served on the Galway RNLI lifeboat crew and had worked out the women's approximate location, based on wind and tide information.

"As soon as we got the word they were missing, and with the wind that was there last night and everything else, we kind of predicted where they might have gone," he said RTE.

Roughly 15 hours after they went out, the women were found by Oliver and his son on their boat Johnny O. They were holding onto the buoy of a lobster pot around 20 miles from shore near Inis Oírr, one of the Aran Islands. The women were wearing life jackets, but no wetsuits – as the weather was fine when they went out into the ocean.

"They were definitely in shock but the weather is warm so they were lucky," said Oliver to RTE.

"They did everything right. They held on to one another, they didn't lose touch and it can't have been easy with the night that was in," said Oliver, referring to the thunder and waves that occurred throughout the night.

The fishermen were given a heroes welcome when they returned to shore.

Emotional scenes at Galway Port as fisherman Patrick Oliver and his son Morgan return from saving the lives of two young women in Galway ⁦@RTENewsNow⁩ ⁦@GalwayLifeboat#alive

— TERESA MANNION (@TeresaMannion) August 13, 2020

The paddleboarders were taken to University Hospital Galway after their ordeal, but "despite spending the night out on the water in extreme conditions, the women did not require medical attention," said the RNLI in an official statement.

"We are absolutely delighted that it has all worked out well," said Barry Heskin, from the Galway RNLI Deputy Launching Authority.