Sunday 22 October 2017

Investigator says access to piers for drivers is 'crazy'

Victims of tragedy to be buried in joint funeral

The slipway at Buncrana Pier. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
The slipway at Buncrana Pier. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Sean, Louise, baby Rioghnach Ann, Evan and Mark McGrotty.

Greg Harkin

The hero who rescued a baby during Buncrana's drowning accident has called for all slipways around our coasts to be cordoned off to prevent a repeat of the tragedy, while a vehicle accident investigator said it was "crazy" that cars have access to piers.

The joint funeral will take place for members of the Daniels/McGrotty family in Derry City tomorrow.

Sean McGrotty (46), his two sons Mark (12) and Evan (8), and the boys' granny Ruth Daniels (59) all died in Sunday's disaster.

Mrs Daniels' daughter - Jodi-Lee (14) - also died when the family's Audi slid on algae on the slipway and went crashing into the sea.

Sean, Louise, baby Rioghnach Ann, Evan and Mark McGrotty.
Sean, Louise, baby Rioghnach Ann, Evan and Mark McGrotty.

Bystander Davitt Walsh, who had gone to the pier with his girlfriend for a walk, has been hailed a hero after he was able to swim out and rescue Mr McGrotty's infant daughter Rionaghac-Ann.

But yesterday, as the remains of those who died returned home to Derry, the pier and slipway in Buncrana remained accessible to the public.

Ruth Daniels
Ruth Daniels

Mr Walsh (28) said slipways should only be accessible to boat owners.

"I really do think that something needs to be done. That algae is just lethal. We slipped on it as we went down," he said.

Jodie Lee Daniels
Jodie Lee Daniels

"It's grand for locals as they know the dangers posed by the slipway and how dangerous it can be. But visitors are simply not aware of this. All that needs to be erected there is a barrier which can easily be opened and closed to prevent cars going down it.

"The slipway is like a skating rink because of all that algae and those poor people didn't stand a chance because they didn't know the area."

The office manager, from Kerrykeel in Co Donegal, swam into the water to rescue four-month-old Rionaghac-Ann.

He had gone to Buncrana with girlfriend Stephanie Knox for an evening stroll and got caught up in the tragedy.

A large metal gate at the entrance to the slipway remained jammed open yesterday.

Local people say they haven't seen it closed in many months.

Liam Cotter, a consultant motor engineer assessor, told the Irish Independent that it was "crazy" that vehicles were allowed onto piers around the Irish coast. He warned that modern cars, with central electronic systems, give motorists and their passengers "no chance" once they come into contact with water.

It is understood that gardaí are expected to ask Audi engineers from Germany to examine Sean McGrotty's Q7 vehicle.

Electrics

They will want to find out why the boot of the car was open when the vehicle was taken from the water by the emergency services on Sunday night. "Once any vehicle comes into contact with water it is potentially disastrous and unfortunately it was in this tragic case," said Mr Cotter.

"But we have a situation in this country where slipways and piers can be driven onto and people will do it, often innocently, like in Buncrana."

He said that based on what he knows so far about the tragedy, it would appear the electrics in the car cut out very quickly, closing windows and possibly locking the doors.

Donegal County Council wouldn't say when the last maintenance took place at Buncrana pier. A spokesman said: "Once the facts surrounding this unfortunate tragedy are established, the council will review them and determine if any specific measures need to be taken. Until these facts are established Donegal County Council will not be in a position to offer further comment".

The slipway on the other side of Lough Swilly at Rathmullan - used by a ferry during the summer - was almost completely algae-free yesterday.

It is a more modern facility, completed two years ago.

Irish Independent

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