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'We really don't know what happened' – son of fisherman who died in Wexford tragedy says as search continues for second man

A search is due to resume at first light this morning for a Wexford man who has been missing since the trawler he was fishing on sank late on Saturday night.

Willie Whelan, who is in his 40s, was fishing off Hook Head with another man, Joe Sinnott (65), who was winched from the sea and rushed to hospital but who died later.

The tragedy has hit the close-knit communities of Kilmore Quay, Dunmore East and the surrounding villages and townlands.

A massive search operation began when the Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) from the 12-metre fishing boat Alize automatically alerted Coast Guard personnel at around 10.30pm on Saturday.

This beacon operates when it is submerged in water, and could indicate that the boat sank quickly, giving the two-man crew no time to radio for help.

They had been fishing for scallops six miles south of Hook Head.

Mr Sinnott, a father of four and grandfather of nine, was from the Seaview area of Kilmore Quay.

Neighbours and friends yesterday gathered at the house he shared with his wife Mary to comfort her and the Sinnott family on their loss.

“We really don’t know what happened. It’s too early to tell. The first we knew was around 11pm after the signal from the boat was received by the Coast Guard in Dublin who then in turn contacted the owner,” said Mr Sinnott’s son, Michael.

“It’s hard to believe. He was so many years at sea, and the man who was with him too, so whatever happened wasn’t down to a lack of experience.”

“He was a hard worker. They were scallop fishing, which would have been a 24-hour trip with a two-man crew.

“The boat was in good condition.”

After being taken from the sea Mr Sinnott was transferred to University Hospital in Waterford but later died.

His funeral will take place on Wednesday.

The family of Mr Whelan was also being comforted by neighbours and friends as they awaited news.

Wexford Fianna Fáil councillor Michael Whelan said Mr Whelan had only married five months ago.

“The family are distraught,” he told Independent.ie.

“I spoke with his father at Hook Head and he said he saw him out fishing and had expected him to be back in just an hour-and-a-half.

“The family are just holding out hope for a rescue or recovery.”

  • Read More: Alize adds to grim toll of tragedy that haunts the south-east coast

Search conditions yesterday were difficult, with a strong wind blowing onshore and visibility hampered by rain.

Conditions changed dramatically within minutes, and as the light in Hook Head lighthouse was switched on at around 4.30pm and darkness fell, visibility was very poor.

Members of the Coast Guard gathered at the lighthouse, and a rescue helicopter swept back and forth across the choppy seas.

Lifeboats and fishing vessels could also be seen searching.

The search was called off due to fading light and unfavourable weather conditions shortly after 4.30pm.

Irish Coast Guard helicopters 116 and 117 returned to land.

And the RNLI lifeboats from Kilmore Quay, Fethard, and Dunmore East returned to their bases.

Many local fishing vessels were also involved in the search which was being co-ordinated by the LÉ Ciara off Hook Head.

Niall Fergus, Irish Coast Guard units and supports manager, said south-westerly winds were blowing a force five and force six yesterday, and this was expected to increase to force eight today.

It is expected that searches would be carried out in more unfavourable conditions today.

Shore searches are also to be carried out today using calculations of wind direction to determine which locations would be involved.

Some items from the stricken boat have been spotted in the water and recovered.

The trawler, a scallop fishing vessel, was said to be in good condition and working in good sea conditions when it sank.

The boat is a steel-hulled vessel built in the UK in 1989.

Defence Minister Paul Kehoe said the sinking of the trawler was “a hugely tragic incident that has shocked the local community”.

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