Tuesday 25 October 2016

Cliff-fall Aaron (9) drowned despite dad's rescue efforts

Aaron O'Flaherty
Aaron O'Flaherty

A heartbroken father has spoken of how he tried to save his young son who was swept out to sea after falling from cliffs while on holiday.

Aaron O'Flaherty (9) died after the incident that happened on a visit to Black Head lighthouse north of Fanore, Co Clare, on May 4, 2014.

His father, Patrick Hayes, gave emotional testimony at the inquest into Aaron's death of how he almost managed to grab his son as he was caught in the waves, only for the boy to be swept away in the strong swell.

The court heard that the pair had been on a weekend camping trip to Doolin.


Mr Hayes said they visited the lighthouse earlier in the day, but Aaron wanted to see it in operation, so they returned at dusk.

As the pair sat on the rocks looking out over Galway Bay, Aaron spotted a fisherman on rocks nearby. He wanted to try casting out, his father said.

"As he got up he seemed to stumble toward the cliff edge. I went to grab him but he fell in," Mr Hayes said. Aaron fell between 15 and 20 feet into the sea below.

Mr Hayes, who trained with the Civil Defence in 2005, said he knew he could not reach him.

"He was treading water and calling out to me. I realised I wouldn't have been able to swim out to him," he said.

He called 999, untangled the ropes of a lifebuoy and threw it, but it did not reach his son.

Fisherman Malikhaz Mgeku- asgvili, who was alerted by Mr Hayes' shouts, cast out a line and Aaron grabbed it.

"I pulled him in to the shoreline, near enough to grab him. The man went into the water and grabbed the child but a wave came in and pushed them apart," the fisherman said.

Mr Hayes struggled with his emotions as he told coroner Dr Brian Farrell he could not keep hold of his son.

"I had him in my hands on a number of occasions, but the waves kept breaking us apart and pushing us under," he said.

Aaron was swept swiftly out to sea, Dublin Coroner's Court heard.

Mr Hayes questioned the length of time it took a coastguard helicopter to respond.

Following Mr Hayes' 999 call, logged at 9.15pm, the Rescue 115 Coast Guard helicopter mobilised and departed Shannon airport at 9.33pm.


It arrived at the scene at 9.45pm, as Doolin Coast Guard volunteers arrived by boat.

They found Aaron around 100 metres from shore, Thomas Doherty of Doolin Coast Guard told the court.

Noting the 12-minute flight time from Shannon to Black Head lighthouse, Mr Hayes said: "It still doesn't explain why it took so long to mobilise."

Aaron was airlifted to Galway University Hospital and later transferred by ambulance to Temple Street in Dublin, where he died four days later. The cause of death was irreversible brain damage due to a lack of oxygen, secondary to a drowning episode.

The lighthouse is approached by a path with a "No Entry" sign, the court heard.

Dr Farrell returned a verdict of death by misadventure.

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