A U.S. citizen, the sole survivor of a fishing boat tragedy in Cork Cork in August of last year, has described how he tried to save his friends’ lives in the freezing Irish seas.
Edward Dziato, 46, a native of Connecticut, was in the water when his three shipmates died.
Wolfgang “'Mike” Schmidt, 69, and Wolfgang Schroder, 62, both retired sea captains, along with Glengarriff, Co. Cork pensioner Richard Harman, 69, drowned when all four men jumped into the water after Schmidt's boat caught fire.
Dziato told the Cork coroner's inquest into his friend's deaths that he had tried to save their lives.
All four men had jumped into the water when Schmidt's boat "Castaway" caught fire. The last message received by the Irish Coast Guard from Schroder's cell phone was, "We have a fire on board. We are near Bere Island. The helm is on fire now. We are near Roancarraig Lighthouse. We are in deep sh**."
The inquest also heard that Schmidt had been warned about electrical problems on the boat in May of last year.
Speaking at the hearing, Dziato says he is grateful every day that he is alive. "Every day is tough but we will go through it. I think about it every day. Today is a great day to be alive. I will recover, but I hope the inquest brings closure to the families,” he said.
He explained to the inquest, which included the wives and other family members of the victims, what happened on August 16 of last year.
The four men had gone fishing, and on their way home had noticed the vessel was filling with water. Schmidt turned on the three electrical bilge pumps and smoke poured from the control panel. Schmidt had asked Dziato to use the fire extinguisher, but the fire continued to rage.
Dziato said, “I told Mike the flames weren’t going down. He was very calm. He couldn’t believe what was happening. We all went to the back of the boat to think of what to do.”
The fire spread so quickly that the men could not reach the life vests or life raft.
Schroder then phoned the Coast Guard and put two bumpers into the water to use as flotation devices. All four men climbed into the water.
“We hung on to the back of the boat for about two minutes. At that stage, the flames had engulfed the cabin and we could hear things bursting with pressure. We decided to push ourselves away from the boat.
“Richard had said he couldn’t swim . . . I stayed with Richard as he was grabbing me. I told him to calm down, to take off his boots and jacket and lay on his back, which he did.
“I put one hand under his back while I paddled with the other. After a few moments, he just rolled and looked at me with a look of ‘thank you’ in his eyes, then his eyes just rolled back, foam came out of his mouth and I let him go.”
Dziato then swam into Schmidt. He was face down in the water. “I tried to roll him over to tell him to hang on but I couldn’t roll him over. ”
Dziato was rescued by the Irish Coast Guard's Sikorsky helicopter and the other men were winched from the sea.