Rescue boat arrived 20 minutes after last cries for help heard from loch

RESCUE workers listened to the last cries of two drowning fishermen as they waited for a Strathclyde Fire and Rescue boat to arrive because they had no training in water rescues.

A fatal accident inquiry heard yesterday that the boat, stationed in Renfrew, didn't arrive at Loch Awe, Argyll, until 20 minutes after the last calls for help were heard.

It also was told that the coastguard did not turn up with a boat for the rescue, only a rope.

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Glasgow men Craig Currie, 30, Thomas Douglas, 36, William Carty, 47, and Stephen Carty, 42, lost their lives in March last year after getting into difficulties on a late night boat journey across the loch in thick fog.

The inquiry at Oban Sheriff Court heard that two of the men in the water could be heard shouting for help by rescue workers on the shore for more than an hour.

Iain Gemmell, 35, deputy leader of Dalmally Fire Station, said: "I remember them shouting the name Tom and when other firefighters had shouted, 'Are you in the water?' the response had been, 'Yes'."

George Dow, 38, a volunteer firefighter at Dalmally Fire Station, one of the first rescue workers on the scene, said he saw lights in the distance on the fog-bound loch.

He said: "I heard the cries for help. I would say two voices. There were four or five of us on the shoreline shouting back, 'Can you hear us? How many of you are there?'"

But he said that by the time the rescue boat arrived the shouting had stopped. Asked how long it had been since the final shouts, Mr Dow said: "Probably 20 minutes."

Mr Dow said firefighters had expected the coastguard to bring a boat to the scene, but they had only brought a throw rope, similar to what the firefighters had.

He added: "We thought they would have come, because that is what they are trained to do, rescue people in boats."

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Allan MacDonald, 22, a retained firefighter from Inveraray, and Elizabeth Cattanach, 43, a firefighter at Dalmally, said the crew had no water rescue training.

Mr Gemmell and Ms Cattanach described walking along the shore with Edward Colquhoun, a friend of the fishermen, who raised the alarm.

Ms Cattanach said Mr Colquhoun wanted to wade in to an island in the loch but they had to stop him, because it was dangerous.

She said: "He was very agitated and distressed."

Mr Gemmell told the inquiry that, at a meeting later, when firefighters had been going over what had happened, there were comments about the co-ordination of rescue services. He said the Fire Brigade had appeared to be in control of the shore site.

A record of that meeting stated that "crews felt that no other organisations were reacting to the situation as they stood back and let the Fire Service run the incident without offering any support or resources".

The inquiry continues.