Two American tourists staying in Co Antrim have described how they had to face biting winds in the pitch black for almost nine hours after becoming stranded on a hiking tour of the north coast.
The visitors, staying at Ballycastle’s Ardaghmore Guesthouse, were reported missing by their landlady at 10.30pm on Sunday, having gone to explore the local area earlier that evening.
Lance and Henry, neither of whom wished to give their surnames, had gone out for a walk around Fair Head but became stranded when they could no longer see where they were headed across the rough terrain of the 350 metre wide boulder field, where rocks the size of houses can be found.
Having reached a point where they felt reasonably sheltered at around 7.30pm, the pair, aged 24 and 25 and hailing from Florida and Missouri, decided to stay put for the night and hope they would be rescued.
Fortunately the men, who have been in Northern Ireland since Thursday, informed landlady Genevieve McLernon where they were headed that day, and she suspected something was wrong when they had not arrived home by 10.30pm that night.
Speaking to the News Letter Ms McLernon said: “I called the police at 10.30pm. The boys have been staying here for the past two night and I knew their routine was to get up and out early and then back early enough in the evening.
“I also knew where they were going and was worried about them braving the elements. They are fit, young men so I thought they would probably be ok but I called the police to be sure.”
The men were rescued just before 4am, after the coastguard spotted the light from their mobile phones.
A full search team, involving Ballycastle and Coleraine Coastguard, the PSNI, the Ambulance Service and an Irish Search and Rescue helicopter, helped in the operation.
The pair, who were airlifted to the local golf club, were not seriously injured.
Henry told the News Letter: “We tried not to panic, and keep a clear head. The plan was to wait until the morning and then set off when it was light again.
“The wind was the biggest thing we had to deal with. We used grass and plants nearby to keep us insulated.”
Coastguard sector manager for Belfast North Gordon Munro said the men had been prepared for a day walk, thinking they would arrive back before daylight faded.
“They had set off early that morning and expected to be back to the guesthouse in the evening but soon realised the difficulty when it got dark.
“There is no clear designated walking path and it can be difficult to negotiate during the day never mind in the dark.”
Mr Munro said the men were right to find shelter and wait it out, but added that the temperatures had left them “slightly hypothermic” at the point of rescue.
His advice for anyone going out walking is to let someone know where you are going and what time to expect you back, to wear warm clothing and bring a torch and know the terrain before setting out.
The men said they were relieved to have been rescued, and are looking forward to spending another four days in Northern Ireland.
“We are heading to the rope bridge and Giant’s Causeway next,” said Henry. “We have had a great time here so far, with nice scenery and views.”
Henry added his thanks to Ms McLernon for raising the alarm, and who he said made them a nice cup of tea and some food when they arrived home in the early hours.
Ms McLernon said: “I am just so glad the whole thing is over. I couldn’t sleep thinking about what might have happened but they are back safe and sound and that is the main thing.”