Tuesday 20 March 2018

Buncrana tragedy: 'I'll never forget the faces of those poor people,' says hero man who saved baby from sinking car

Greg Harkin

A hero footballer has revealed how he will never forget the faces of the family members who perished in the Buncrana pier tragedy.

Davitt Walsh (28), a former Bohemians and Shelbourne player, saved a four-month-old baby in the tragedy and tried to rescue a second child as the drama unfolded.

He was caught up in the tragedy when he spotted the McGrotty's family vehicle plunge into the sea.

He revealed how desperate father Sean McGrotty looked at him and said "save my baby".

"I took the baby, I held it above my head and I swam back out to shore," he said.

At Letterkenny hospital yesterday, Davitt spent a short time with the infant.

"That was a very special moment. The nurses were very good and that moment is something I will never forget as long as I live," said Davitt.

"But I will also never forget the faces on those poor people in that car."

Davitt received specialist counselling yesterday morning after being released from hospital where he was treated for cuts to his feet and bruises.

However, he said he feels guilty he did not save more people from the car.

"I just couldn't get the doors open and neither could they. The electrics must have gone once it was in the water," said Davitt.

"I was pulling and I was telling them they had to get out of the car quickly but they couldn't. I was telling them it was going to go down but they just couldn't get out of the car.

"I wanted them all out but there was nothing I could do and there was nothing they could do.

"I just wanted to get them all out but there was nothing I could do. It all just happened so quickly," he said.

Davitt, from Kerrykeel, choked back tears as he spoke of the last moments of the tragedy.

"It happened so, so fast. I ran down and the local man was there.

"I know now he was Francis Crawford and he asked me if I could swim, if I could swim to the jeep," said Davitt.

"I asked if there were currents and he said there was, but I just stripped down to my under pants to get the best chance of going out and I went in.

"I didn't stop to think. I got out to the car.

"The man had to smash the window from the inside and all I could hear was the screaming, lots of screaming coming from inside the car.

"I will never forget those screams. It was awful. The man stayed in the car and just said: 'Save the baby'.

"I think he could have saved himself but he wanted to stay with his family and help them.

"I got a grip of another child. I think it was the older boy, about 12 years old, but he just got pulled away from me. I don't know how.

"I probably couldn't have saved him and the baby and get back again. I don't know for sure."

He said Mr McGrotty handed him baby Rioghnach-Ann through the car window and shouted: "Take my child. Help my child."

Davitt pulled the baby away from the car and within seconds the car filled up and sank.

"All I could think of right then was getting that baby to safety, getting that baby to the shore.

"I was about 40 metres from the shore and I tried to keep the baby's head above the water at all times. The baby was looking at me, her eyes were open."

Read more: 'It was harrowing. To have a family, so many people, gone like that over a very simple thing'

Davitt, who also played for Finn Harps, had played for his local side Fanad United in the Ulster Senior League earlier on Sunday afternoon.

His girlfriend Stephanie Knox, a cardiac physiotherapist, based at Derry's Altnagelvin Hospital, grabbed the infant as Davitt arrived ashore.

"I thought she was dead because she wasn't making any sounds," said Stephanie.

"Then she made a little cough. She was so tiny and then I realised she was okay.

"I took my coat off and wrapped her in it and the ambulance people arrived and took over."

Davitt's father Billy, a local garda, said he and his family were proud of Davitt, an office manager with a Letterkenny company. "What he did was just like him," said Billy.

"He's an incredibly generous young man and I feel so proud about what he did.

"It was amazing what he did out there in Buncrana on Sunday night and he's a hero as far as we are concerned.

"We'll look after him now and make sure he recovers and gets all the help he needs."

Irish Independent

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