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Blaze blast flung boat men into sea

The three friends who died aboard this pleasure cruiser were blown into the sea by an explosion, it emerged today.

The force of the blast blew four men into the water -- but only one survived.

Irishman Richard Harmon and German nationals Wolfgang 'Mike' Schmidt and Wolfgang Schneider -- all in their 50s and 60s -- died in the tragedy.

Ed Dziago from Connecticut, who owns a home in Glengarriff, was pulled from the water alive and was discharged from hospital this morning.

The speed of the fire and subsequent explosion aboard the 'Castaway' off the Cork coast meant that none of the four men had time to raise the alarm.

The four men stood little chance after a fire on their motor cruiser, believed to be owned by one of the German men, triggered an explosion, the force of which threw them into the sea.

Marine safety officials were today hoping to speak to sole survivor Ed Dziago in a bid to piece together what happpened.

He was treated for minor injuries and shock at Cork University Hospital after he was plucked from the sea off Roancarraig Lighthouse by a Coastguard helicopter yesterday.

Alarm

The Herald has learned that such was the speed of the fire and subsequent explosion, no one onboard the Castaway, an eight-metre Castletownberebased motor cruiser, had a chance to raise the alarm.

Initial indications are that all four were blown into the sea by a violent explosion – with several of the deceased understood to have suffered burns.

Rescue officials refused to comment on speculation that the vessel’s fuel tanks may have ruptured following the fire.

The Coastguard and RNLI raced to the scene after being alerted by a person onshore who spotted smoke coming from a vessel at sea.

Rescue officials hailed the individual as a hero today.

The motor cruiser had been fishing off Roancarraig when it inexplicably caught fire shortly after 5pm.

The vessel was some 5km off the entrance to Berehaven when the tragedy began to unfold.

The Coastguard Sikorsky helicopter – which was in West Cork attending to a separate rescue at Hungry Hill outside Castletownbere – rushed to the scene alongside an RNLI lifeboat and local fishing craft.

Four people were recovered from the sea by the helicopter crew – who had arrived on the scene within minutes – and taken ashore.

But three were pronounced dead immediately upon being landed ashore and the other, American man Ed Dziago, was air-lifted to Cork University Hospital for treatment.

Vigil

He hails from Connecticut but has had a holiday home in Glengarriff in West Cork for a number of years. His family were today by his bedside.

Castletownbere RNLI deputy coxswain Paul Stevens said rescue officials were deeply shocked by the scale of the loss of life involved.

A major probe will be launched today by the Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) and inspectors were due in West Cork this morning.