Friday 9 December 2016

'I would not be alive if it wasn't for Phil and Connie'

Survivor Derek prays for friends who died in kayak accident

Barry Duggan

Published 09/04/2010 | 05:00

THE only survivor of a kayaking tragedy last night praised his two friends for saving his life moments before the pair drowned.

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A tearful Derek Elliott recalled the horror as his two friends, Philip Kelly and Connie Smith, died on the Clodiagh River at Portlaw, Co Waterford.

The trio had spent the evening kayaking along the river before tragedy struck at a weir around 9pm on Wednesday night.

"Phil went in to save Connie and if it wasn't for the two boys roaring back at me, 'Don't come in, don't come in', I'd be dead as well," Derek said.

"They saved my life and it's as simple as that. You'll never get something like this from your mind. My thoughts and prayers will always be with them. I wouldn't be here talking to you if it wasn't for them," he said.

Philip (31) from Co Tipperary and Connie (34) from Co Cavan lived together on the outskirts of Waterford city. Philip worked alongside Derek (26) from Knockaderry, Co Limerick, in the research and development laboratory of Teva Pharmaceuticals while Connie was employed with the Waterford City Council as an engineer.

It emerged last night that Connie Smith's sister gave birth to a baby girl yesterday.

After finishing work, the three friends began kayaking downstream along the Clodiagh River.

"We had kayaked a good few times before -- last year we did Arklow to Graiguenamanagh so we know what it's like. The two lads would be far better than me though," Derek said.

"We had one or two dodgy parts yesterday, there was a tree down at one place, but we got through it -- we were a small bit shook."

Upon reaching the weir at the old tannery in Portlaw, they decided it was too dangerous to traverse.

"I suppose because we all saw along the way how powerful Mother Nature can be, we saw this (the weir) and said it was too big. We turned back and pulled the kayaks out.

"Everything was out of the water. We walked down along here (through the Tannery), looked in gates and saw some dogs coming out. I don't know what they were -- they looked like rottweilers.

"One was looking at me and more came out. We thought: 'Jesus they could jump that at any stage.' We ran back up and said we'll go down it.

"Phil and Connie pulled the kayaks back in while I stood outside with the paddle in case any of them (the dogs) came down to belt them off."

Rope

"Connie said: 'Sure look, I'll tear down.' He went down and you could see the paddle swinging about. 'Jesus what is going on there,' I said. Phil went down to save him -- to make sure he (Connie) was alright. Phil would have been the best (kayaker) out of the three of us."

"Then I saw two paddles swinging. They just started screaming: 'Don't come down, don't come down -- get up, get up, go back'.

"I came back and climbed up. They had been thrown out of the kayaks. They had the jackets, the helmets and all the gear and were trying to swim -- I don't know.

"They said get rope, but there was nothing around so I started running.

"I started banging on doors. A Polish lad jumped the gate with me and ran back down. He was with me for 20 minutes trying to get the lads.

"One woman cut her clothes line and brought it down, I broke a piece off a window-sill, but it was too late. We knew it was too late."

Emergency services were quickly on the scene, including Carrick-on-Suir river rescue and the Coast Guard helicopter, which proved crucial in the operation to retrieve the bodies.

"One fireman was willing to tie the clothes line around him and jump in," Derek said.

Both of the deceased were keen on outdoor pursuits. Kayaking trips to Lough Derg in a fortnight had been planned along with a hiking trip in Wexford as well as attending the Fleadh Cheoil in Co Cavan.

Irish Independent

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