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Coast Guard praised for recovering body from blowhole

News

Anton McNulty

Members of the Achil Island Coast Guard unit were commended for their bravery shown in recovering the body of a 20-year-old man from a 70-feet-deep blowhole near Belmullet.
The body of Joseph Abbott of Shraigh West, Bunnahowen, Belmullet, was recovered by members of the Achill Island Coast Guard unit from the bottom of the Dún na mBó blowhole near the village of Corclough on the Mullet Penninsula on June 23, 2016.
The inquest into the death of Mr Abbott took place in Ballina last week. It heard that the Coast Guard unit had to overcome extremely challenging conditions, including a four-foot swell, poor light and a rising tide, to secure the body before bringing it to the surface.
Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald, Coroner for North Mayo, described the recovery of Mr Abbott’s body as a monumental effort and she praised the volunteers for their bravery.
“I would like to point out the bravery and skill displayed to recover the body … and bring it up before it was taken by the sea. It is gratifying and reassuring that you are there, even risking your own life, and that has to be taken on board,” Dr Fitzgerald said at the end of the inquest.
The inquest heard that Mr Abbott suffered from psychotic episodes in his life and had been on medication prior to his death. His father, Anthony Abbott, reported to the Gardaí that his son had gone into the blowhole.

Extremely challenging
Rob Joyce, Officer in Charge of the Achill unit, told Dr Fitzgerald that although they had been trained in cliff rescues, the recovery of Mr Abbott’s body was extremely challenging and the environment was an extremely difficult one in which to work.
When the unit arrived at the scene at approximately 3pm, two members, Teddy McNulty and David McNamara, entered the blowhole and climbed the 70 feet to the bottom. David McNamara described the blowhole’s difficult terrain – sharp, loose rock near the top and  polished, slippery rock further down.
Mr Abbott’s body was discovered face down in water at the back of a cave at the bottom of the blowhole, ‘ebbing and flowing’ with the movement of the tide. A four-foot swell and poor visibility made it difficult to retrieve the body, and a decision was made for a third member of the team, Tommy O’Leary, to join the operation.
Using grappling hooks they made numerous attempts to secure the body, but its location and the movement of the water made it difficult. After a number of failed attempts, however, they managed to secure the body with ropes and eventually took it from the blowhole at 7.30pm.
The body was taken to Mayo University Hospital, where a postmortem found that he suffered from extensive fractures to the skull that resulted in haemorrhaging to the brain.
Joseph Abbot’s father, Anthony, was the last person to see his son alive, but he was unable to attend the inquest, as he was in England. Dr Fitzgerald said she would like to hear Mr Abbott’s evidence before making a finding, and she adjourned the inquest to a date later this month, to enable him to attend.