Two dead and one feared drowned in freak accident
Two people have died and a third person is missing feared drowned after a tragic coastal accident in west Cork.
The group were walking along the rocks near the Beacon, outside Baltimore, when they were apparently swept into the sea by a freak wave.
The three were father Barry Ryan, aged in his 50s and from Baltimore, his son Barry Davis Ryan, aged 21, and the young man's girlfriend, Niamh O'Connor from Cork city, 20.
It is understood that Mr Ryan's teenage daughter was also with the group when the accident occurred.
However, she was not swept into the sea and managed to scramble to safety to raise the alarm shortly after 7pm.
Details on the tragedy are yet to be confirmed, but it is believed that Ms O'Connor was swept into the sea by the freak wave - before the two men got into difficulty as they attempted to help her.
It is understood the two men are the son and grandson of Arthur Ryan - the founder of Penney's/Primark. The hugely private businessman opened the first Penneys store on Dublin's Mary Street in 1969 The company is now owned by conglomerate Associated British Foods.
A huge rescue operation was launched, which involved both the Irish Coastguard's Waterford and Shannon-based Sikorsksy helicopters.
It was supported by three RNLI units, including the Baltimore lifeboat and the Union Hall craft.
The Irish Coastguard's Toe Head rescue unit, as well as the Schull community rescue boat, were also deployed.
Mr Ryan Snr and Ms O'Connor were recovered from the sea a short time later.
Both were given emergency medical treatment at the scene and then air-lifted in a critical condition to Cork University Hospital (CUH) by an Irish Coastguard helicopter but were pronounced dead a short time later.
Mr Ryan is understood to have worked in the media in the past. Ms O'Connor is a student.
A second Irish Coastguard helicopter began sweeps of the coast for Mr Ryan Jnr who was still missing. Divers also attended the scene and began a careful examination of the waters near where the accident occurred.
An early evening fog had settled over the area which reduced visibility and hampered search efforts.
Late last night, the search operation was scaled back as darkness fell. However, a full search has resumed this morning.
Irish Coastguard support personnel were deployed to Baltimore to co-ordinate the search and recovery operation yesterday. Both local fishermen and Naval Service units were also standing by to support the search operation if needed.
One Baltimore RNLI volunteer, who asked not to be named, described the incident as "truly shocking". "Weather conditions were quite good down here at the time but the sea can be so very dangerous," he said.
John Carney from Baltimore Lifeboat told the Irish Independent that divers abandoned their search shortly before 10pm last night due to "turbulent underwater conditions".
"Unfortunately we had no joy in the search this evening. We were about 20m down on the seabed, and conditions were quite tricky. We had four divers in the water not far from the coast with two on standby in the boat.
"We will be joined by the Navy Diving Unit in the morning where hopefully we will have a better outcome."
Locals described the incident as "a heartbreaking tragedy".
The area is a renowned local beauty spot and is popular with both anglers and walkers.
Fianna Fáil councillor, Joe Carroll, who is friends with the Ryan family, said the tragedy was "simply heartbreaking".
"This is just so shocking and heartbreaking," he said, "I am very good friends with the family. I am still in shock."
His words were echoed by Independent councillor Michael Collins who said the tragedy had left a number of communities in west Cork "numb and in shock".
"To think that you could go out for a walk with your family and for such a horrible thing to happen is mind-boggling."
A local publican who did not want to be named said the local "tight-knit community" had been left "reeling in grief".
He added: "We all live in this beautiful area next to the sea, we all know the power it possesses. But it takes something like this for its true power to hit home. It is just awful news; my heart goes out to the family."
At least six people have drowned over recent years in Cork and Kerry as they engaged in rock fishing or walked along exposed coastal areas.
Two Dutch nationals drowned in February 2014 in west Cork when they were swept into the sea by a freak wave. In August last year a man missing from a yacht which capsized off west Cork was found drowned.
The previous month two divers died after getting into difficulties off Castlehaven, near Glandore. The men were diving towards the wreck of a German submarine which was scuttled in 1945.