Pony slip resulted in tragic Gap of Dunloe fall which claimed lives of two US tourists - inquest
A PONY'S metal-shod front left hoof is believed to have slipped on a notoriously steep descent in the Gap of Dunloe resulting in the animal, a trap and two US tourist being catapulted down into a rock strewn ravine in the Kerry beauty spot.
The revelation came as a Killarney coroner's inquest heard that the two US tourists, on a dream Irish holiday with their family, died from catastrophic head injuries when they fell more than five metres onto rocks with the trap then tumbling down on top of them.
The heartbroken family of Rosalyn Joy Few (64) and Normand Larose (62), who died on only the second day of their Irish holiday, said they do not want any other family to suffer their nightmare of loss.
The US family did not attend the inquest but were represented by a solicitor.
The Kerry trap operator, Dan Casey, who was uninjured in the accident after managing to jump off the trap before it plummeted into the ravine, extended his deepest condolences to the family from Arizona.
Through his solicitor, Mr Casey said: "There is not a day that (I) do not think about and pray for the deceased."
In direct evidence, Mr Casey said he has no idea what caused his pony 'Johnny' to suddenly bolt that day.
"Suddenly and without warning, my horse 'Johnny' bolted. He slipped down an embankment on the left-hand side."
Mr Casey, a trap operator for 37 years, said his pony had worked the Gap of Dunloe route in 2017 and had previously worked in Killarney.
The accident occurred on only the fourth day of the Gap of Dunloe season.
'Johnny' was experienced and of a good demeanour.
"I don't recall the horse slipping anywhere on the road, to be honest."
Mr Casey said the pony had special pins on his shoes to offer extra grip.
Seconds after the accident on April 9 2018, Ms Few's daughter, Tonya, her son-in-law, Bill Walter, and her two grandchildren, Gavin and Catelyn, came upon the horrific accident scene in two other ponies and traps.
One trap operator, Eugene Tagney, wept as he tried to comfort the grief-stricken US tourists at the scene with Tonya asking him: "Is that my mother down there?"
Mr Walter scrambled down into the ravine in a desperate bid to help Mr Larose and Ms Few - having to lift the trap which had pinned both bodies to the rocks.
Both had suffered catastrophic head injuries and were pronounced dead at the scene.
The duo later had to be recovered by Kerry Mountain Rescue volunteers such was the challenging terrain.
The pony later had to be put down.
Kerry Coroner Aisling Quilter recorded verdicts of accidental death for both US holidaymakers.
The inquest jury issued a single recommendation that a special barrier now be erected at the accident scene which involves the most dangerous part of the Gap of Dunloe trek.
Garda PSV inspector James O'Brien said that, had the accident occurred just a few metres on, the couple would have been catapulted onto grass and furze bushes.
Mr O'Brien said the horse was in good condition, the trap had been recently serviced and had no mechanical defects while the pony had been shod just one month beforehand.
The Garda said, in his opinion, the pony was at walking pace when the tragedy occurred.
Four witnesses including Ms Few's daughter, Tonya, and her husband, Bill Walter, said they felt the pony and trap had been travelling fast during an earlier part of the trek.
"I asked: 'Why was Joy and Normand's cart going so fast? They were missing all the scenery," Tonya said.
However, the three pony and trap operators insisted the trek had been undertaken at normal pace - with the trap at walking place as it negotiated the severe bends by the Black Bridge.
Mr O'Brien said that, given the treacherous nature of the descent to the Black Bridge, had the pony and trap been going too fast it would have overturned much farther up the road.
"There is no question but that the pony was at walking pace," he said.
"I believe the pony's left front shoe lost traction with the road (during the descent)."
On a descent which was measured at one metre in ten metres, the pony immediately veered to its left and towards the ravine with the weight of the trap behind it.
The momentum of the trap and its three occupants then frustrated the pony's desperate attempt to regain its footing.
"He would have reacted and tried to pull back. It is the natural reaction. But the momentum of the tub (trap) and the three people pushed him over the edge."
The inquest heard there was no barrier at the scene - and no warning signs.
Unlike the jaunting cars in Killarney, the traps at the Gap of Dunloe are not equipped with mechanical brakes.
"The horse pushes, pulls and stops," Mr O'Brien pointed out.
Ms Few, a resident of Phoenix in Arizona, died on April 9 2018 after the freak accident in the Gap of Dunloe.
Mr Larose (62), who was originally from Canada, also died at the scene.
The coroner said that a post mortem examination conducted at University Hospital Kerry (UHK) determined that Ms Few suffered blunt force trauma to the head, inflicting a fatal traumatic brain injury.
Mr Larose died from similar injuries including blunt force trauma to his skull and brain.
He was found with the trap wheel partly across his chest.
The accident was the worst in modern times at one of Ireland's most popular tourist attractions.
Ms Few's daughter, Tonya, was following her mother that day in another pony and trap with her husband and two children.
The family were horrified to come upon the accident scene - and immediately realised that Ms Few and Mr Larose had been critically injured when thrown down into the ravine.
The accident happened in the Gap of Dunloe, not far from Kate Kearney's Cottage, as the tourists were undertaking one of Kerry's most popular visitor attractions.
A Garda investigation was immediately launched to determine the precise cause of the tragedy.
The incident was deemed to be a tragic accident and no further action was directed.
Kerry Co Council is now to examine plans for a special safety barrier at the site.
Ms Few's daughter paid a moving tribute to her mother and Mr Larose after the fatal accident and acknowledged the incredible support and sympathy the family had received since then from the people of Kerry.
Tonya said the couple "radiated happiness everywhere they went."
"Joy and Norm...touched many people's lives. They loved their family and their friends deeply and unconditionally."
"They both loved life and lived their lives to the fullest."
Tragically, the accident happened at the steepest part of the descent where the Gap of Dunloe road passed a bridge parapet by a deep ravine.
The Mayor of Killarney Councillor Niall Kelleher warned last year that any lessons required would be learned from the tragedy.
"If there’s lessons to be learned then it is incumbent on us to act upon it,” he said.
Last August, Kerry coroner's court also heard the inquest into the death of another US tourist in the Gap of Dunloe after a separate accident.
Janet Price (69) died from multiple injuries when she came off her hired bicycle near a notorious bend in the Gap of Dunloe on May 30 2017.
Her daughters warned the mother of two would never have attempted the steep descent had proper warning signs been in place.
The Price family insisted that signage should be in place warning that the descent is not for inexperienced cyclists.