Surfer praises rescuers after surviving 32 hours in Irish Sea

Henry McDonald Ireland correspondent

A Scottish surfer who was swept out to sea and survived more than 30 hours in the water has paid tribute to the “heroes” who rescued him.

Matthew Bryce was saved by Belfast coastguards 13 miles from the Scottish coastline after going missing on Sunday morning.

The 22-year-old was eventually found at about 7.30pm on Monday between Scotland and Rathlin Island, off the north Antrim coast.

He was last seen at about 9am on Sunday in the St Catherine’s area of Argyll near Campbeltown and was believed to have been heading to Westport beach.

Belfast coastguard said Bryce had been out in the sea from about 11.30am on Sunday before being found on Monday night.

Scottish surfer rescue map

Bryce said: “I am so grateful that I am now receiving treatment in hospital. I cannot thank those enough who rescued and cared for me, they are all heroes.”

He added: “For now, I am not facilitating any interviews as I am exhausted. Please respect the privacy of myself and my family at this time as I recover.”

Bryce’s father, John, also expressed his gratitude. “The past 48 hours have been an absolute rollercoaster of emotions for our family and we are so grateful that Matthew has been found safe and well,” he said.

“To get that call from the police last night to say that he was alive was unbelievable. It was better than a lottery win – you just can’t describe it.

“Matthew means the world to us; he is such a strong character both mentally and physically, and we are looking forward to being reunited with him.

“We’ve managed to speak to him briefly on the phone and he is obviously exhausted after his ordeal, but he is in good spirits and happy to be alive.

“Our family cannot thank the coastguard, RNLI volunteers and police officers involved in finding Matthew enough.

“I would also like to thank our friends and family as well as the hundreds of people who offered their support on social media. We have been overwhelmed by your support and good wishes and we will be forever grateful to every single one of you.”

Dawn Petrie, from the Belfast coastguard operations centre, said Bryce was hypothermic but still conscious when he was found. He was airlifted to the Ulster hospital on the eastern outskirts of Belfast, where he was being treated.

A spokeswoman for the hospital described the his condition on Tuesday as stable.

Matthew Bryce was clinging to his surfboard when he was found. Photograph: Police Scotland/PA

Coastguards earlier said that when their team located Bryce he was “kitted out in all the right clothing”, including a neoprene wetsuit, and that this “must have helped him survive for so long at sea”.

She said the coastguards had become “gravely concerned” before they found Bryce because of the 32 hours he had been in the water and that night was falling.

When he was rescued Bryce was still clinging on to his surfboard, Petrie said. “He did the right thing by staying with his surfboard and that certainly aided his survival,” she said, adding that he was “extremely lucky” to have survived in the sea for so long.

The search and rescue operation also involved RNLI lifeboats from Campbeltown, Islay and Red Bay, the coastguard rescue teams from Campbeltown, Southend, Gigha, Tarbert and Port Ellen as well as the coastguard rescue helicopter based at Prestwick.