HeadLine: Storm rescue miracle
The Mirror, 29/12/2000, p1
by SHAUN MILNE
A FISHERMAN told last night of his miraculous survival stranded at sea
overnight in white-out conditions.
John MacDonald was found by rescuers clutching desperately to the
upturned hull of his boat off the coast of Skye.
“I was clinging on for dear life,” he said.
“Seeing the lifeboat was the happiest moment of my life.”
John’s pal Donald MacDonald also had a remarkable escape when he made
his way to shore and was later found freezing and dazed.
The whole country woke yesterday to heavy snow and Arctic temperatures.
But forecasters say there is better weather ahead.
HeadLine: FREEZING FISHERMEN FOUND ALIVE
The Mirror, 29/12/2000
by SHAUN MILNE
TWO fishermen missing overnight in arctic conditions were miraculously
found alive yesterday.
One was found clinging to the upturned hull of his boat in a blizzard
as temperatures plunged to -5C.
The other was discovered a few miles away wandering aimlessly in a
cold-induced daze after somehow managing to strike shore.
Both were last night recovering from their ordeals in hospital, where
they were being treated for shock, hypothermia and exposure.
Lifelong friends John MacDonald, 52, and Donald MacDonald, 46,
disappeared on Wednesday after being caught in white-out conditions
during separate fishing trips.
The men, both from the village Sleat, on Skye, sparked a full-scale
land and sea search after failing to return home.
A Coastguard spokesman described the conditions as ‘atrocious’ and said
it was a miracle they survived.
John relived his ordeal last night.
He said: “Donald and I left the shore together to fish different areas,
but stay within sight of each other.
“There was no problem and then the snow came in. It was a complete
“I couldn’t see anything. We couldn’t get our bearings. We couldn’t see
“I lost track of Donald after a bit and with all the snow and damp, my
engine cut out. I couldn’t get it started again, no matter how hard I
“I was drifting, helpless whichever way the current or the wind would
take me. Eventually I found myself about 12 miles off the shore.
“There was no use shouting. I knew no one would hear me.
“I just had to keep warm and keep my spirits up. Fortunately, I had my
oil-skins on and they kept me fairly warm and dry.
“If I had anything which absorbed water, I would have been done for.
“There were a few scary moments. It was pitch dark with driving snow
but occasionally I was hit with a big wave. But it’s a miracle I
managed to survive the night. Then when daylight came, there was still
a swell and a big wave overturned me.
“I was in the water for about half an hour when I managed to scramble
on to the keel of the boat. I was clinging on for dear life. Then I saw
the lifeboat and a fishing boat.
“It was the happiest moment of my life. You can’t explain how it feels
when you realise your life is going to be saved. I don’t think I would
have lasted much longer.
“I was never so pleased to see some folk. Then I got a helicopter trip
to the hospital. But I never got a dram to celebrate, just a cup of
“It was brilliant though. But now I will look forward to a good stiff
dram to celebrate Hogmanay – a New Year I thought I would never see.”
Coastguard teams, aided by RAF rescue helicopters, failed to find any
trace of them as wintry conditions worsened on Wednesday. The search
was called off overnight but resumed at first light yesterday. Rescuers
were eventually rewarded just before lunch-time.
Donald’s boat was found moored on Rubha Charn Nan Cearc, a peninsula on
the Isle of Skye, shortly after noon.
His footsteps were seen in the snow and a search party using sniffer
dogs located him just over a mile away.
Donald, who was equipped with warm waterproof gear, managed to speak
briefly about his ordeal last night.
He said: “I went out to go winkling about lunch-time and the weather
was not too bad. But then the snow came in. It was terrible. I couldn’t
see a thing.
“I was sailing blindly and I thought the most common sense thing to do
was to head for shore.
“I must have sailed too far south because, when I beached the boat, I
didn’t recognise any landmarks at all. The snow was driving down and
visibility was very poor. I tried to head inland to find something I
recognised to give me my bearings.
“But I was still disorientated and didn’t really know where I was
heading. I just thought I would keep going.”
Meanwhile John, who lives just a few doors away from Donald, was
counting his own blessings.
He was found clinging desperately on to his dinghy in icy waters eight
miles out to sea from Tarskavaig Bay around 30 minutes after his friend
Sergeant Dennis Hindman, of the Northern Constabulary, described the
sea rescue as “totally unbelievable”.
He said the fishermen had not been interviewed by police but had spoken
to the crew who brought them to safety.
Sgt Hindman described the sea as “very, very cold”.
Referring to Donald, he said: “He is very well indeed and had the sense
to keep going all night and did not rest and go to sleep.
“It is perhaps advisable if you have small boats not to be going out at
this time of year because dangers are present, and the end results are
often very tragic.”
Unknown to either of the men or their rescuers, the search teams were
dealing with two separate incidents.
Originally it was thought that both men had gone fishing together, but
in separate boats.
A Coastguard spokesman said: “The two incidents were not connected, and
considering the weather, it is a double Christmas miracle that they are
“As time went on, hope was fading. But it is fantastic news both have
Inspector Sandy Gray of Portree police said he had never known a rescue
He said: “I am absolutely amazed and delighted that the two men have
been found safe and well.
“Both have shown the strength of human resilience and the will to live
and it is very heartening they survived.
“I have never known anything like it locally.”
Duncan Mackay, watch manager at Stornoway Coastguard, said: “We made
every effort to locate these two men this morning and are delighted
with the result.
“Incredibly, it is pure coincidence these two friends went missing at
the same time and were found within half-an-hour of each other.
“They are extremely lucky to be alive. They should have a very good New
An RAF spokesman said: “They were obviously suffering from hypothermia
but they were conscious.
“They were fortunate to be alive.”
Sister Chrisann O’Halloran, of Broadford Hospital, where the men are
being treated, said both wanted to say how much they owed to rescue
She said: “They want to say a big thank you to everyone who took part
in the search.
“Without that effort, they may not be recovering in hospital today.”
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