As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column as published in the Waterford News & Star
THAT morning I had woken up in the middle of a mad dream. It was one of those dreams where you are not sure if you are even dreaming at all. It was the noise of a helicopter in the background that created the illusion in the first place, I now understand.
In this dream, Rescue 117, the Coastguard chopper, was collecting water from the lake in a huge swinging bucket and pouring the water on to a blazing forest.
Over and back it went, collecting and then pouring. The noise was deafening. As I woke up, I wondered if this was something I had seen on TV or was this just outside my window and happening on the lake?
The noise that finally brought me to my senses, at 6am was Rescue 117 hovering above my house. It’s not just noisy, let me tell you. It’s the vibration that disturbs even more. Himself was missing and I was totally disoriented.
Going outside to see what was happening, he came up the field saying that someone was missing. It seemed they had left a note and had disappeared out here around the two lakes. Turned out that the Tramore Coastguard Volunteers and the Search and Rescue Dog Association were out combing the area in their hi-vis jackets. It startled us to see them in the fields where usually only cattle roam.
‘It might be because I almost drowned as a child and I never forgot the feeling of sinking into oblivion that day. One minute I was doggie paddling on a slip with other kids, and the next I had drifted off the slip and was way out of my depth.’
The next hours were very worrying. I kept thinking of everyone involved.
By a strange coincidence I had just been reading an account of a North American fisherman lost at sea for 15 hours. Then the two Galway girls went missing at sea and did exactly the same thing to stay afloat. They had all found a buoy tied to lobster pots and clung on until they were spotted.
Who was lost today and why? The night’s sleep was over. It was impossible to do anything else while the search continued. All we could do was hope that they would be found safe.
The vibrations from Rescue 117 were so strong that even earplugs made little difference. I checked with Himself about the dream. It was no dream, but a memory of something that happened here.
During a massive forest fire a few years ago, the Rescue helicopter had indeed collected water from the lake and poured it on the fire. The rescue service personnel really are incredible people: their skills, dedication and persistence inspire us every day.
It was a very emotional conclusion when the two Galway girls were found almost 20 miles from where they entered the water. It’s something I have often thought of: how would I survive if the worst happened and I was lost at sea?
It might be because I almost drowned as a child and I never forgot the feeling of sinking into oblivion that day. One minute I was doggie paddling on a slip with other kids, and the next I had drifted off the slip and was way out of my depth.
I struggled on with my newly learned strokes but very soon I was ingesting sea water and getting very tired. I just couldn’t get back onto the slip no matter how hard I tried and had started to sink and feel sucked under the water.
Out of nowhere just as I had quietly given up and perhaps almost lost consciousness, I was pulled from the sea by a large strong man.
He carried me back to my Father who was relaxing on a rug and smoking a fag. I don’t think I could properly explain what had happened and I felt like an eejit anyway. I’ve heard that the feeling of foolishness is known to stop even adults calling for help. In fact, a friend of mine fell off the Naomh Eanna on the way to the Aran Islands and told me he was too mortified to shout out.
Meanwhile, the anxiety was rising in our house as the chopper hovered over the lake without moving an inch. I got the camera out and caught a man at the open door staring into the water. Oh no, oh no. We waited, fingers crossed.
So many of us become overwhelmed by life from time to time; grief, isolation, disappointment, bad news. Sometimes the feelings overwhelm and all that is left is the longing for an ending. I have no idea who was missing or why, but a lot of people clung to hope that morning. Never giving up, the teams were searching until this missing person would be found and know that so many people cared.
Then suddenly it was all over. The lost soul had been found safe and well. Just another working day for rescue volunteers and professionals. While the rest of us could all breathe easy again.