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Daring rescue Italian tourist says cold sea water 'stopped the bleeding' after horror Galway cliff fall

"I remember this big huge wave coming towards me and then it was dark and I thought ‘I’m going to die now’,” Ricardo Zanon told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland

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Winchman Philip Wrenn, second from right, was awarded for saving Italian brothers Giovanni and Ricardo Zanon in 2019 on Inis Mór alongside Ciarán McHugh

Winchman Philip Wrenn, second from right, was awarded for saving Italian brothers Giovanni and Ricardo Zanon in 2019 on Inis Mór alongside Ciarán McHugh

Winchman Philip Wrenn, second from right, was awarded for saving Italian brothers Giovanni and Ricardo Zanon in 2019 on Inis Mór alongside Ciarán McHugh

An Italian tourist that took an almost fatal fall off a cliff in Galway has said it was lucky the incident happened in February as the cold water stopped him bleeding to death. 

On February 23, 2019, two Italian brothers, Giovanni and Ricardo Zanon, had been holidaying in Co Galway when they got into trouble at a local beauty spot on Inis Mór known as the Worm Hole or Poll na bPéist.

They had fallen about 20 metres from the jagged cliff edge before being pulled into the Atlantic sea and washed back onto the rugged coast, both sustaining serious injuries.

"I remember this big huge wave coming towards me and then it was dark and I thought ‘I’m going to die now’,” Ricardo Zanon told RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland.

"When I got up and saw I wasn’t dead I was a bit surprised after being dragged around by waves. I remember this helicopter coming down and when I saw them I thought ‘this is going to be okay.’”

Luckily, the Shannon-based Irish Coast Guard (ICG) helicopter, Rescue 115 came to the brother’s rescue. 

Risking his own life, winchman and paramedic Philip Wrenn was winched down to the bottom of the cliff as the water raged and all three narrowly avoided being pulled out to sea when another enormous wave hit the wormhole.

“I’ve been to it a couple of times on a couple of different incidents, one similar to the guys,” Mr Wrenn said.

"There is a phenomenon on the West Coast where there's a bigger than average wave every seventh or eighth wave and that’s what came in and hit the lads and knocked them off the cliff and down into the wormhole.

"While we were down there treating the guys another wave came in and hit us all there.

“When we got on the scene I started treating Ricardo, and when I was trying to get him on a spinal board a wave came in and threw us all forward under the water and I had to try and hold Ricardo under the water.

“It tried to sweep us out but luckily enough it didn’t.”

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Mr Zanon was seriously injured and would spend the next 18 months in and out of surgery. 

“When I fell I fell with one leg so I broke my tibia and basically eight centimeters of bone was shattered, so we had to reconstruct it over a year and a half,” he said.

“And then I broke my pelvis because my leg was pushed up so it broke my pelvis in two points.

“So I wasn’t able to stand up and I had a wobbly leg, it was like a rag doll, and it was bleeding a lot.

“Probably if I had to wait there for more than what I waited I could have been dead from bleeding, I could’ve bled to death. Luckily, the water was so cold that it kind of stopped the bleeding.”

In March of this year winchman Philip Wrenn was honoured for his bravery with the Billy Deacon SAR Memorial Trophy, which is given to winchmen and winch operators working in rescue missions in Ireland and the UK.

"It is a team effort and we try and train for every event, but you can’t get every event so we train quite rigorously and we try out best to foresee what’s going to happen,” Mr Wrenn said.

“As a winchman, when you are down on a cliff face like that you have to think on the spot and make split-second decisions and that comes from experience, for me, that’s 12 years but there are guys in there with 20 years experience.”

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