Empty life raft found in search for missing crew

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The Independent Online

Rescue teams searching for the five-man crew of a trawler which disappeared off the south-east coast of Ireland have recovered an empty life raft.

The inflatable was found washed up on Ballyteige Beach three to four miles from Kilmore Quay shortly after 11am.

RNLI lifeboat operations manager Sean Radford, who is helping co-ordinate the massive search, said there were no reports of anyone having been in the raft.

Three lifeboats from Kilmore Quay, Dunmore East and Rosslare are searching a 10-mile stretch of the Wexford coast for the crew of the 20m (65ft) boat, Pere Charles.

It went missing two miles off Hook Head yesterday evening with five men on board.

They are skipper Thomas Hennessy, married with two girls, in his early 30s, and originally from Kerry; his uncle, Pat Hennessy, in his 50s, and also from Kerry; married father Billy O'Connor, in his 50s; 27-year-old father-of-one Pat Coady, originally from Duncormack in Wexford; and a fifth man believed to be from Ukraine.

It is understood the families of the missing men are waiting for news in the lifeboat station in Dunmore East.

Coastguard volunteers, a search-and-rescue helicopter and fishing vessels from Kilmore Quay and Dunmore East are also involved in the search for the missing men.

Navy dive teams are also on hand to help the search but bad weather is preventing them from doing so.

Gale force winds gusting up to force nine and ten are hampering efforts.

The last contact with the missing trawler was shortly before 6pm yesterday with sister boat, the Suzannah G, which was nearby. Seconds after the radio message that something was wrong, the Pere Charles vanished from the radar.

The crew of the Suzannah G headed for where the missing trawler was located but could find no trace of it.

Michael Walsh, owner of the missing vessel, spoke to the crew at 5.45pm yesterday evening as they fished for herring.

The weather was beginning to close in at the time with strong winds and high seas.

Mr Walsh said: "It's just a devastating time at the moment. There's a black cloud in Dunmore and it will not go away until we get some news."

He said Mr Coady had given up fishing as a full-time job some time ago to take a post with the electricity board onshore in Waterford but went out on the herring run for one day to earn some extra cash.

"He was spending a bit of time around the pier recently and I read between the lines that he was missing it. We were glad to have him on board, he is very experienced." said Mr Walsh.

The Ukrainian crew member is 32 and married with one child.

The Pere Charles was built in France in 1982 but was working out of Dunmore East for the past year.