Kayaker rescued from Owey Island thanks those who came to his aid

THE kayaker who was rescued in a major weekend air and sea operation after becoming trapped in a cave on Owey Island, has said he owes his life to those who heroically came to his aid.

Malachy Doyle has told of his frightening experience, describing it as a “living nightmare”.

Following a distressed contact by Mr Doyle on Sunday just before 3pm reporting that he had got into difficulty, Malin Head Coastguard coordinated the search. They were supported by Rescue 118 from Sligo, Bunbeg and Mulroy Coastguard, Arranmore RNLI and a number of local vessels.


Mr Doyle said the incident began when he went to take a look at one of the caves but changed his mind when he saw the churning sea inside.

Taking to his own social media, Mr Doyle wrote: “Turning round, an enormous and freak wave hit me from behind, overturning the boat, sending me flying out, and both of us hurtling deep into the cave. I somehow held on to the kayak and paddle but it was half full of water and I couldn’t get back in. I spent about 30 minutes being buffeted around the cave, trying to hold on, and not swallow too much water. Eventually, and incredibly luckily, we were thrown towards the only possible escape route – a high ledge above the surging waters. I grabbed the rock with both hands, abandoning the kayak to the waves, and climbed up to a ledge eight feet or so above the water level.”

Mr Doyle said he was relieved when he discovered his phone, which was in a Ziploc bag around his neck, was still working. But, frantic feelings set in when his phone would not connect to alert the emergency services. To add to his panic, no-one knew Mr Doyle was out at sea.

“I pressed 999 repeatedly. For ages it wouldn’t connect due to there being no signal deep in the cave, but eventually a woman answered. ‘I’m in trouble’, I said, and gave her my details. For over an hour I waited, shivering in my wet clothes, hoping beyond hope that the message had got through to the right people. No one knew I was out, no one would venture that way as the sea was much rougher by now, and there was severe danger of hypothermia setting in.”

The sound of a rescue helicopter above a while later offered reassurance to Mr Doyle. A drone was used to locate his position in the cave.

“Rescue was on the way. I knew they couldn’t spot me from above, but Coastguard/RNLI, would be out looking. It took another hour or so until Oscar Duffy and his friends came back to the mouth of the cave one last time to see if there was any sign of me. I heard their loudhailer and yelled back. They alerted RNLI, who put in a drone to locate my position to the cave. The sea was too high, and way too rough by then, for a normal rescue boat to get in to me, but an hour later the tide had turned and it had calmed enough for them to send in Arranmore’s smaller Y-boat inflatable, manned by the heroic JJ and Evan O’Donnell.”

Mr Doyle was flown to Letterkenny University Hospital in seven minutes. He remained there overnight for observation and monitoring.


Reflecting on what could have been a fatal incident, Mr Doyle said his life was saved by the heroic actions of so many.

“Feeling immensely grateful to everyone who helped me in my hour of need on Sunday when a wee trip over to Owey Island in the kayak, on quiet waters, turned into a living nightmare. Thank God for the emergency services, for Malin Head Coastguard, Rescue 118 from Sligo, Bunbeg and Mulroy Coastguard, Arranmore RNLI, the fire service, the guards, the ambulance service and Letterkenny University Hospital who all played their part in saving my life.

“To Oscar Duffy, David Keller, Tom Ham and Manus O’Boyle, local men who played a very major part in my rescue, and all the other locals and friends who helped either on the day or wished me well after.

“And a final and massive shout out to the inventor of Ziploc waterproof bags – if you hadn’t kept my phone dry I’d probably still be there, on that tiny ledge, frozen solid. Lessons learnt. One of the nine lives definitely gone.”

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