Rescue operation underway after 10 injured being thrown into water by stormy weather at Northern Ireland dinghy race

Several boats have capsized at Strangford Lough (pictured), County Down

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The Independent Online

A rescue operation is underway to help almost 20 people thrown into the water when stormy weather hit a dinghy race in Northern Ireland.

Initial reports suggested around 100 people went overboard after their boats capsized, but Coastguard chiefs later scaled back the figures to 20.

Several boats capsized in gale-force winds and squally showers caused by the remnants of Hurricane Bertha in Strangford Lough, near Killyleagh, on Monday.

Ten sailors, including one with head injuries, were hurt when the GP14 regatta was hit by a squall, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said.

Among the injured were two teenage boys and a woman, believed to be in her 30s, who wounded her arm.

Most casualties were suffering from the effects of hypothermia after 87 sailing dinghies were hit by a sudden change in the weather, according to the Coastguard.

The South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland said ambulance crews were treating as many people as possible at the scene and a major incident response plan had been launched.

"Casualties will be being brought to the Ulster Hospital (Dundonald). A major incident and emergency response plan is in operation," a spokesperson said.

Belfast Coastguard was contacted shortly before 2pm on Monday with reports that some vessels had overturned, while around 80 were having difficulty.

The Bangor and Portaferry Coastguard Rescue Teams, the Portaferry and Newcastle RNLI lifeboats, the Irish Coast Guard helicopter and a helicopter from RAF Valley were sent to the scene.

The GP14 World Championship was expected to see one of the largest dinghy fleets ever to compete at the East Down Yacht Club in County Down.

Sailors from Northern Ireland, the Republic, England and Australia were taking part in the competitions.

Two races were due to be held on Monday but only one was completed before the squall struck boats competing off islands about three miles offshore.

Several sailing associations had already warned of windy weather for the event, with gusts up to a gale-force 30mph expected.

A spokesperson for the RNLI said: "Our thoughts are with the casualties and crew currently involved in the dinghy racing incident in Strangford Lough."

Additional reporting by PA