Search for Iona victims suspended

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The Independent Online
SEARCH TEAMS trying to locate the bodies of three men, missing after their dinghy capsized off a tiny Scottish island, were officially stood down last night as hopes faded for recovery.

Coastguards said that the operation would be suspended until the weekend and then widened. Experience has taught them that if the bodies do not appear within the first two or three days it could be a week or more before they are finally washed ashore.

"From an official point of view, we are standing down. It will give the men a chance to have a rest," said Kenny Devine, the Oban sector manager for HM Coastguard. "But the police will still be here, as will the volunteers. These are local people and they want to do what they can to get a result and find the bodies.

"The mood amongst the search teams is sombre. They are very disappointed that they have not been able to find anything.

"After the first day, when there were a number of finds, people had been hopeful of finding more, but that has not been the case. But they are still determined to carry on."

It is now more than four days since the five men capsized as they returned to Iona after a Christmas dance on the neighbouring island of Mull. The sole survivor, Gordon Grant, 33, managed to swim ashore and raise the alarm.

The body of Robert Hay, 23, was washed ashore shortly afterwards. Logie MacFadyen, 24, Alisdair Dougal, 19, and David Kirkpatrick, 23, are still missing. All the men lived and worked on Iona.

The tiny community, which has fewer than 90 residents, was in a dark mood yesterday as it waited for news from the search team.

One local woman, who did not want to be named, said: "You only have to use your imagination to know what it's like. Imagine the worst and you are probably not far from the truth.

"This is a tiny community and there is not a person here who has not been affected by what has happened."

The Rev David Taylor, the local Church of Scotland minister, has been visiting the families of the victims. He has also been giving support to the search teams returning each evening at 4pm as darkness falls.

"The men are going out to look for the bodies of their own sons," he said. "They are coming home at the end of the day and they are frustrated and exhausted. Their emotions are churning.

"At 4.30pm yesterday, the men had returned to the island and they had not found anything. There was a sense of despair and there was no comforting them. I think it would help a great deal if they could find the bodies."

Mr Taylor said that he had also spoken to Mrs Grant, whose son has left hospital in Oban for an undisclosed location. "She knows that her son will be under great trauma when he gets back," he said.

As force seven gales and driving rain continued to batter Iona last night, coastguards were not optimistic about the chances of finding the men'sbodies. There have been previous cases when bodies have been lost at sea for months.

The body of one woman who recently drowned here reappeared several months later, washed ashore on the Isle of Skye, 50 miles to the north.