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Saturday 10 December 2016

Buncrana pier tragedy: Hero Davitt Walsh relives agony of letting go of boy's hand to save baby

'I still had Mark's hand - and then I had to let go - he was going to pull me in as the car went down'

Published 06/05/2016 | 10:46

Davitt Walsh with his partner Stephanie Knox
Davitt Walsh with his partner Stephanie Knox

THE hero of the Buncrana pier tragedy, Davitt Walsh, spoke movingly last night of the traumatic moment he had to let go the hand of 12-year-old Mark McGrotty in order to save baby Rioghnach-Ann.

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Speaking on a special ITV programme on what makes people intervene to help strangers in trouble - even at great personal risk to themselves - Davitt and girlfriend Stephanie Knox shared their memories of the drowning tragedy that claimed five lives.

His voice full of emotion, Davitt recalled the moment he and Stephanie realised there was a car in the water at Buncrana pier.

"It was a really beautiful evening, so we decided to go down to the beach, get a few photos, just like a normal Sunday for us," Davitt told the programme.

Photo: North West Newspix
Photo: North West Newspix
Rescue hero Davitt Walsh cradles baby Rioghnach-Ann, whom he saved from the icy waters. Photo:Derry News

"We'd been talking for a few minutes, and then decided to go home.

"That's when Steph just happened to look back - I don't know why she looked back, but she did, and said: 'There's a car in the middle of the water!'"

Unimaginable grief: Louise James with partner Sean McGrotty, sons Mark and Evan and baby Rioghnach-Ann who was saved Photo: Family Handout/PA Wire
Unimaginable grief: Louise James with partner Sean McGrotty, sons Mark and Evan and baby Rioghnach-Ann who was saved Photo: Family Handout/PA Wire
Ruth Daniels

Sean McGrotty's car, which had been parked on the steep slipway for the family to watch the sunset, had skidded on the coating of algae, and slipped off the pier into the lough - with the family inside.

Davitt said he did not think twice about what he should do. In seconds, he was already preparing to swim out to the McGrotty's car.

"I'd already made the decision that I was going in while I was in our car - I was taking my clothes off, and I looked at the family and they were calling for the Coastguards, calling for help.

"We thought that we were just going to swim out to the car and bring the family in."

It took just a few seconds before Davitt was in the water, swimming strongly toward the McGrotty's car as it began to drift away from the slipway into deeper water.

"I was about halfway out when I started saying to myself 'What am I going to do to help here?' I knew that the car was going to go down very, very soon."

When strong swimmer Davitt reached the car, Sean McGrotty handed him his baby daughter, before struggling to free his 12-year-old son, Mark.

Davitt said: "I had the baby in one hand and the next thing the Dad just went back into he car.

"He turned round to me and he just said: 'Save the baby'.

"I still had Mark's hand - and then I had to let go - he was going to pull me in as the car went down. It all happened in seconds.

It took all Davitt's strength to swim away with the baby as the car went down: no one else survived.

The programme said Mr Walsh has rightly been hailed a hero, but last night he and girlfriend Stephanie revealed that they were still haunted by a sense of guilt at not being able to save the others.

"I was in bits about it," Davitt said. "I didn't really take it on that I had saved the baby. I just looked at the negative - I'd left the family out there - and I couldn't help them."

Stephanie revealed that she has vivid dreams about saving people.

Belfast Telegraph

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