A swimmer who was stranded at sea for over 12 hours is alive today, thanks to a pod of dolphins who helped save his life.
Ruairí McSorley, 24, believed to be from Londonderry, Ireland, was rescued 4 kilometers from shore by Fenit Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) at 8:15 p.m. Given the condition he was found in, the group called it a “miracle” rescue.
McSorley was conscious but “hypothermic and exhausted” when found. He was wearing only a pair of swimming trunks when he was plucked out of the waters of Tralee Bay.
The swimmer told rescuers he had planned to swim out to Mucklaghmore Rock, 9 km out from where he set off at Castlegregory beach, where his clothes had been found. His abandoned belongings are what led to the search.
12 hours later, RNLI coxswain Finbarr O’Connell calculated where he could have ended up after analyzing tides in the area.
Fenit RNLI volunteer Jackie Murphy said it was a miracle how McSorley survived the ordeal and credited O’Connell with locating him at sea.
O’Connell said the man was surrounded by many dolphins when he was found. They were later identified as bottlenose dolphins living in Moray Firth in Scotland. Since 2019, the sea creatures have been seen off the Irish coast.
“Maybe they helped him in some way or another: who knows?” he said.
The Fenit RNLI and R118 coastguard performed an intensive search across Tralee Bay before finding McSorley.
Despite being the key to finding him, O’Connell refused to take all the credit, noting that the crew they have are “all excellent.”
“It’s good to get a positive result. Normally we go out, and it mightn’t be that positive. We are all just elated,” he said.
O’Connell added that the situation could have ended worse if McSorley was left there for 30 minutes longer. None of them—including the medics—could believe he survived it, but they’re relieved that he did.
McSorley has since been brought to the University of Hospital Kerry, where he is recovering.
“It is literally beyond us all (how he survived),” he said. “He was only wearing a pair of trunks. He had no wetsuit. Nothing. He must have been a good swimmer because he was just over two and a half miles (4km) from the beach.”
McSorley’s body temperature had also dropped to dangerously low levels. The swimmer said he went in around 8 a.m., and rescuers picked him up at 8:15.
“He did spend that amount of time in the water, and I don’t know how he did it,” O’Connell said. “It’s incredible, really.”
They first saw his head in the water and initially thought it was a seal. But then he put up his hand.
“The elation of seeing somebody floating alive in the water, rather than the other way, is so great,” O’Connell recalled. “We have had too many bad outcomes, so it was absolutely fantastic to pick him up.”
When asked how he had determined the trajectory of McSorley across Tralee Bay, O’Connell explained that they had been trained to handle scenarios like that.
They have a mannequin they throw in the water, which behaves like a person would in water. They leave it there and do an exercise for a few hours. Upon their return, they would see how far it has drifted. They pick it up and note in the chart the direction the tide is going. That’s the knowledge they applied during the rescue.
In light of this incident, Murphy advised swimmers to exercise caution when venturing into the water for a swim.
“Always please tell somebody what time you are due back and where you are going,” she said.