Three young US students had a lucky escape in west Kerry last night when they were the focus of a dramatic rescue from the base of a 60 metre cliff near Slea Head.

It is understood the three women, all aged in their early 20s, were trapped by the incoming tide 200 metres to the south of Com Dhíneol (Coumeenole) beach, a well-known beauty spot on the Slea Head Drive.

The alarm was raised shortly before 9pm. Up to 20 members of the Dingle Coast Guard responded and were at the scene within 20 minutes.

The Valentia Lifeboat was also launched.

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The Shannon-based Coast Guard helicopter Rescue 115 arrived a short time later. The Dingle-based ambulance also attended the scene.

The three women were trapped on a small ledge at the base of a 60 metre cliff. Members of the Dingle Coast Guard descended the cliff using ropes. The Valentia Lifeboat and the Coast Guard helicopter provided spotlights.

During the two-hour rescue operation, the women were slowly brought, one after the other, to the top of the cliff.

The three women were suffering from the early stages of hypothermia and they were taken to University Hospital Kerry for further medical treatment.

Head of the Dingle Coast Guard unit, Frank Heidtke, said the rescue proved a little more difficult than expected.

"Because of the location we couldn't rescue them by helicopter winch. There was a danger that the strong downdraught from the helicopter hitting the high cliff could blow them off the ledge, so we decided to go down on the ropes," said Mr Heidke.

Coast Guard member Tom Kennedy said the rescue needed to be fast and efficient.

"They were getting hypothermic and the ledge was in a very awkward area, difficult to access. It was great to have the big lights of the lifeboat and the helicopter. It made our job a lot easier."

Coast Guard member Carol Uí Laoithe said the women were extremely shaken.

"They are very, very cold. They didn't have very warm clothing with them and they are wet. It's a very traumatic experience for them. Thankfully we managed to get them in time," she said.

Local farmer Donnacha Ó Dubhda said the women were very fortunate.

"They are three lucky women. They must have wandered beyond the beach at low tide and got caught by the tide. It can happen very quickly there and there’s nowhere to go. You are completely trapped.

"The waves were right up on the cliff there. They were lucky that they were able to climb up a few metres or they were gone."

It is understood the women are spending a semester studying in Dingle.