LONDON — Rescue officials are hopeful that a surfer who was plucked from the sea after more than 30 hours adrift off the western coast of Scotland will make a full recovery despite severe hypothermia.
Matthew Bryce was being treated at Belfast Hospital in Northern Ireland Tuesday after an intense search the previous day ended with him being winched into a Coast Guard helicopter shortly before the light faded.
Coast Guard Operations Specialist Lawrence Cumming said the 22-year-old surfer is “making progress” after his ordeal.
“He was conscious and breathing but severely hypothermic,” Cumming said. “Lifting a hypothermic person from the water is hazardous, but it was done successfully, and he was then taken to the nearest big hospital, which was in Belfast.”
He said Bryce’s survival was greatly aided by his use of a thick wetsuit that includes boots and a hood. The surfer also managed to remain atop his board, lessening his exposure to the cold water.
Bryce said in a statement released by the hospital that he was “so grateful” to the rescue team.
“I cannot thank those enough who rescued and cared for me,” he said. “They are all heroes.”
His father, John Bryce, said the experience had been “an absolute roller coaster” with a happy ending.
“To get that call from the police last night to say that he was alive was unbelievable,” John Bryce said.
Bryce apparently suffered stomach cramps and was unable to paddle properly and was swept out to sea, said Steve England, editor-in-chief of Carve magazine, a surfing publication.
“It’s not mega-common but it has happened before,” England said. “He was really lucky. There are very strong currents up there. To end up off the coast of Northern Ireland, he was caught in a serious open ocean current. It’s so good that our rescue services were on it.”
England said Bryce seemed to be an experienced surfer with quality equipment.
“Lord knows how they found him,” England said. “It’s needle in the haystack stuff.”
The search was complicated because officials were only notified that Bryce was missing roughly 24 hours after the surfer entered the water, making it more difficult to predict his likely location.
“That meant it was a very, very large search area,” said Cumming. Lifeboats from Scotland and Northern Ireland scoured the waters as the helicopter searched from the air.
Bryce was spotted by the helicopter crew at about 7:30 p.m. Monday shortly before the light started to give out.
“We were moving toward twilight and then darkness,” said Cumming.