'An unbelievably numbing day, losing these fine men': Friends die in horrific Christmas accident as vehicle swept away by river
Vehicle was attempting to cross stretch of water in early hours of morning
Area is normally passable but had become swollen amid bad weather conditions
Two men who died are named locally as Declan Davitt (26) and Martin Needham (27)
A third man, Tom McGreal, managed to escape and raise the alarm
TWO friends died in a Christmas Day tragedy after the vehicle in which they were travelling was swept away in a river in the early hours.
A large search operation was launched after the 4x4 vehicle they were in ended up submerged in the water at around 2.30am near the Carrowniskey River in Co Mayo.
The occupants of the car were last night named locally as Declan Davitt (26) and Martin Needham (27), who were from the nearby parish of Louisburgh.
They were travelling in a vehicle near the river shortly after 2.30am when they were swept away.
The third occupant of the 4X4, local man Tom McGreal (19), managed to escape the vehicle before raising the alarm at around 3am.
He is understood to be extremely shaken by his ordeal.
A garda investigation into the tragedy is underway, with investigators looking at whether poor weather conditions were a contributing factor.
It is understood the men were returning after a night socialising with friends and were close to a bridge crossing the stretch of water that had become swollen in bad weather. There were gale force winds and water levels were high.
A Garda spokeswoman confirmed yesterday afternoon that two unidentified male bodies were recovered as part of the search operation.
Mayo county councillor Christy Hyland said the victims were from well-known and respected families in the area.
"Our thoughts go out to their loved ones, their families and friends," he said.
"The whole community is in shock.
"This is a terrible tragedy to happen at any time, but especially on Christmas morning."
A Facebook posting by the local Macra na Feirme group called it an "unbelievably numbing day" following the deaths of "these two fine men", describing both as valued members of the group.
It is understood that both men had been working overseas for a number of years, but had both returned to Mayo some time ago. They are understood to have been childhood friends.
The two men's funerals will be held later this week.
Public notices said they would be deeply mourned by their "heartbroken" families.
Emergency services were alerted and a rescue operation was launched to find the two missing men in the early hours of Christmas morning.
An Irish Coast Guard helicopter was also dispatched and carried out coastline searches throughout the early morning and yesterday afternoon.
The Sligo-based Rescue 118 aircraft carried out aerial searches downstream from the scene of the incident.
The small river leads into the sea along the Mayo coastline.
Shortly before 4pm, the first body was recovered.
An Irish Coast Guard winch-operator recovered the remains from the sea before bringing them aboard Rescue 118. A short time later, a second body was recovered from the sea and brought to the shoreline.
Both remains have not yet been positively identified and were transferred by ambulance to University Hospital Castlebar, where post-mortem examinations are expected to be carried out this morning.
The search operation was stood down.
An investigation into the incident has been launched by officers at Louisburgh Garda station to determine the cause.
Gardaí are probing if heavy rainfall in the area over Sunday night played a role in the tragedy. It is understood the stream is passable for vehicles such as a 4X4, but large rainfall added to water levels in the area and may have been a contributing factor in the tragedy.
A Garda spokeswoman yesterday said: “Gardaí in Louisburgh, Co Mayo, are at the scene of a road traffic incident that occurred in the early hours of this morning, Monday, December 25, 2017.
“A four-wheel-drive vehicle with three men on board was crossing the Carrowniskey
River at approximately 2.30am when their vehicle became totally submerged in water,” the Garda spokeswoman said.
Mr Davitt and Mr Needham were both originally from the Louisburgh area, located around 4km north of the scene of the tragedy.
A number of locals assisted the Coast Guard, fire brigade officers and gardaí in the search operation yesterday.
A large number of people, including friends of the deceased, gathered along the shoreline as the two bodies were recovered.
Locals yesterday were stunned by the tragedy that has left the rural community in shock.
One local man, who did not want to be named, said the tragedy has left a cloud hanging over the area.
“It’s bad, especially with today being Christmas.
“I didn’t know them well, but their friends and relatives have come down here after they heard that a body had been found. It’s awful, awful stuff,” he said.