Friday 24 November 2017

Buncrana pier tragedy: Passerby's 'heroic actions definitely saved that baby's life' - RNLI

'We set out to rescue but that quickly became a recovery operation'

Scene of the tragedy in Buncrana
Scene of the tragedy in Buncrana

Denise Calnan and Garreth Murphy

Only for the quick actions of a couple of passersby, the Buncrana pier tragedy could have had six casualties, an RNLI crew member said today.

Crew member and communications officer with Lough Swilly RNLI Joe Joyce described a man who entered the water to save the life of a baby girl as "heroic".

He spoke after five people lost their lives after the car in which they were driving plunged into the water at Buncrana pier, Donegal yesterday evening. A four-month-old baby girl survived the tragedy after she was passed out the car window to a passerby, named locally as Davitt Walsh, who jumped into the water.

Speaking to Newstalk's Pat Kenny Show, Mr Joyce said his "quick actions saved that child's life".

"When we arrived at the scene, there had been a person on the pier who stripped down and entered the water and took hold of the infant.

"His quick actions definitely saved that child's life."

"When we arrived at the scene there were three bodies in the water and the car had been submerged," Mr Joyce said.

"We launched three boats and picked up the three bodies and commenced CPR.

Scene of the tragedy in Buncrana
Scene of the tragedy in Buncrana

"We brought them back to shore and did a handover to the paramedics at the scene.

"We went back out to the car, one of our crew put on a snorkle and recovered two bodies from the car," he continued.

"At that stage we weren't sure if there was another person involved so we continued to search offshore while we tried to get a handle of what had happened."

Speaking about the rescue of the baby he said: "The water temperature and that... without his prompt actions there would have been six casualties."

Scene of the tragedy in Buncrana
Scene of the tragedy in Buncrana

Family members arrived at the scene last night to carry out identifications and a garda investigation into the tragic accident began this morning.

"We have had other tragedies in and around the lough but never anything this big," Mr Joyce added.

Buncrana, Co Donegal. Photo: Google maps
Buncrana, Co Donegal. Photo: Google maps

A BBC Radio Foyle journalist who was in Buncrana when the tragedy unfolded said the area was in silence during the recovery operation.

"People were just standing there and holding their children as close as they could," Barry Whyte said.

"Yesterday Buncrana was buzzing. Lots of people go down to the pier when the sun goes down, it's a place many people go.

"This news came through yesterday and everyone was thinking, 'this could have been anyone'."

Meanwhile, in an interview on Today with Sean O’Rourke, John McCarter operations manager of the RNLI said they had been conducting exercises yesterday afternoon on the same pier where the accident occurred.

“Everyone had packed up and gone home when the emergency call came in at around 7.15pm last night. We had the crew back on the pier almost immediately. One of our boats is berthed at the pier here so we launched that, along with two others that we had.

“We got the boats out to where the car had disappeared. We set out to rescue but that quickly became a recovery operation. Our crews were quickly able to retrieve the occupants of the car and administered CPR and emergency aid as best we could.

“We brought those people to shore and handed them to the emergency services at the shore but it was already too late.

“They had already been immersed in the water for that short period of time that it takes to overwhelm someone.

Mr McArthur said the emergency crews were on the scene 'within minutes'.

“Our crew was able to get the people out of the car. One of our crew members was able to get the last person out of the car.

He said the RNLI had “never experienced a tragedy of this scale on Lough Swilly”.

“We are trained to deal with tragedy and emergency situations but this was horrific. Inevitably there will be a fallout from what our crew members have seen. Our hearts go out to the family who went out for a Sunday afternoon drive and it ended in tragedy.

Mr McArthur said that the Buncrana pier is “quite wide” and a car could do a three-point turn on it.

“It would not be unusual for people to have a drive down the pier a little bit and have a look at it.

"At around 7pm last night, it would be half tide so there may have been a build-up of slime of algae. There is no definitive word on this as an investigation has yet to be conducted.

“As you drive down a concrete apron, you would think it is fine. It is a ferry driveway so you would think it is fine to drive on. Once you get caught on the algae it is very difficult to get out of it."

Those wishing to pay their respects will be able to sign a book of condolence in the coming days.

The book will be available to sign in the Guildhall.

Mayor of Derry, Elisha McCallion, said she will open the book in response to the tragic incident that claimed the lives of five people.

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