Monday, December 14, 1998 Published at 01:40 GMT
Hope fades for dinghy tragedy men
The men were all local to Iona, known worldwide for its abbey
Search teams say they have all but abandoned hope for three men missing at sea after their dinghy capsized between the islands of Iona and Mull off the west coast of Scotland.
The body of a fourth man was found on the shore and a fifth member of the group, Gordon Grant, 33, is recovering in hospital after raising the alarm.
Mr Grant, nicknamed Pal, is believed to have been a friend of one of the daughters of former Labour leader John Smith, who is buried on Iona and whose family has strong links with it.
Catherine Smith, 25, was reported to have visited Mr Grant in hospital at Oban on the mainland.
Her mother Baroness Smith said: “It is ghastly. I know the people involved, and we are desperately sad.”
A big search – co-ordinated by Oban coastguard – recovered the wooden boat the five men had been in and several items of clothing.
The body of one of the men – 23-year-old Robert Hay – was found on the shore but three of his friends remain unaccounted for.
All five men were tipped into the sea after setting off from Ffionphort on Mull where they had been to a dance.
Mr Grant swam ashore and reached a farmhouse where he raised the alarm.
The search area is a large one because of the effects of winds and tides.
Many local people have taken part in the operation – which included helicopters, lifeboats and fishing vessels.
They will be joined on Monday by an underwater unit from Strathclyde police. The search is likely to be hampered by poor weather.
The three missing men are Logie MacFadyen, 24, from Laggan Dorain, Alisdair Dougal, 19, and David Kirkpatrick, 23, both from Iona.
Church of Scotland minister Reverand David Taylor said: “We have lost four young men, and this has taken away so many of the young people of Iona.
“There are not that many young people who live on Iona and the loss of so many has devastated the islanders. The mood will be very sombre.
“It has knocked the heart out of the island.”
Tony Arden, District Controller of Oban Coastguard, said Mr Grant described the dinghy as being “swamped”.
Mr Arden said none of the men was wearing a lifejacket. He told BBC News 24: “They weren’t raging drunk, they were just enjoying themselves. They were chatting in the dinghy, a large wave broke over the bow, swamping the boat which soon turned on its side and capsized.”
The tragedy has stunned the tiny community of Iona, birthplace of Christianity in Scotland, whose small permanent population of under 200 is swollen by hundreds of visitors in the summer months.
Mr Grant is the son of a prominent Iona businessman who owns shops, property and a pub on the islands.
His mother said: “This is a desperate thing to have happened in a small community like this. We are so short of good young people.
“Gordon can swim, but I would not describe him as a good swimmer.”
A police spokesman said: “He is badly shaken but has only a slight facial injury. He seems to be in reasonable condition.”
The dance was held at the Argyll Arms hotel in Bunessan, where proprietor Duncan MacLeod said: “Everybody on Iona will be devastated, stunned.
“We have only been here two years, but we know the lads reasonably well.”
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