Friday 20 July 2018

Teenager watched in horror as her father, brother and brother's girlfriend drowned after freak wave hit, inquest hears

Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

A TEENAGE girl watched in horror as her father, brother and brother's girlfriend drowned after a freak wave turned a summer fishing trip into tragedy.

A Cork coroner's inquest heard that Charlotte Davis Ryan (13) was soaking wet and in deep shock as she told three stunned Welsh tourists out for a hill walk that her family had just drowned a few metres away.

Barry Davis Ryan
Barry Davis Ryan

"I know they are dead - I saw their heads go down," the traumatised teen told the shocked tourists as she raised the alarm over the tragedy.

"My family have drowned. I know they have," she said.

The tourists, including Christine Jones from Wales, were informed by the trembling teen that her brother, Barry Davis Ryan (20), and his girlfriend, Niamh O'Connor (20), had been swept into the sea from rocks outside Baltimore in west Cork on June 30 last.

Her father, Barry John Ryan (51), had then bravely dived into the sea to rescue them.

Niamh O'Connor who tragically drowned off Baltimore, co. Cork.
Niamh O'Connor who tragically drowned off Baltimore, co. Cork.

The horrified teen ran for help and, when she stopped to look back, saw all three slip beneath the waves.

Coroner Frank O'Connell was told by Supt Ger O'Mahony that the family group had gone to the Beacon Rocks outside Baltimore to enjoy some rock fishing on a sunny June evening.

The two men are the son and grandson of Penny's retail empire founder, Arthur Ryan (80).

The four had gone to the eastern section of Beacon Point, a popular local beauty spot.

Barry Ryan senior who was tragically drowned off Baltimore, co. Cork.
Barry Ryan senior who was tragically drowned off Baltimore, co. Cork.

In a statement to Gardai, Charlotte said her brother had initially gone out to the farthest rock with a fishing rod and bait.

"A big wave splashed over us," she told gardai.

"It got Barry and Niamh soaked. Then another big wave came and it hit us."

"Me and Dad got soaked and got pushed up against the rocks."

"Barry and Niamh got pushed out to sea by the pressure of the sea. Barry was farther out. Niamh was screaming."

"My Dad told me to go climb back up the rocks and get help."

"He swam out to Niamh and he got there."

Charlotte scrambled back up the hill to raise the alarm as directed by her father but briefly paused to look back.

"Niamh and my Dad were closest to the rocks. Then I couldn't see Barry. Dad and Niamh were closer to the rocks."

"Then I saw their heads go under."

The bodies of Mr Ryan Snr and Ms O'Connor were recovered almost immediately by Baltimore RNLI.

The body of Mr Davis Ryan was only recovered 11 days later by diver Eric Hennessy following a massive search operation by volunteers.

Assistant State Pathologist, Dr Margaret Bolster, told the inquest that all three died from drowning.

However, in the case of Mr Davis Ryan and Ms O'Connor she said post mortem examinations revealed they had both also sustained traumatic brain injuries.

Dr Bolster said these would have played a significant factor in the deaths.

It is likely that the duo, having been swept away by the giant wave, were then tossed against the rocks by the surging seas, striking their heads in the process.

The inquest was attended by Ann Davis Ryan who lost her husband and son in the tragedy.

She was supported by her children, Arthur and Charlotte, and other family members.

The inquest had to be briefly suspended when Mrs Davis Ryan collapsed. It resumed when she recovered and insisted the hearing could proceed.

Also in attendance were Ms O'Connor's parents.

They only spoke to ask Dr Bolster whether their daughter felt any pain?

Dr Bolster assured them that, given her injuries, she would not have suffered.

Mr O'Connell extended his deepest sympathies to the Ryan, Davis and O'Connor families as he recorded verdicts of accidental death for all three.

"They were so, so unlucky...these freak waves can happen," he said.

"He (Mr Ryan Snr) gave his life in the course of trying to save the two others. He was an extremely brave and courageous man to make that decision."

"His actions are a testament to the quality of the man," the coroner said.

Baltimore RNLI coxswain, Kieran Cotter, told the inquest that such rock fishing tragedies are now an annual occurrence in Ireland.

"If people wear a life-jacket or a buoyancy aid while fishing, it gives the emergency services a chance to get to them and to rescue them," he said.

"I am 41 years in the lifeboats and this is happening every year. The sea can be very unpredictable."

Colin Ryan, who lost his brother and nephew in the tragedy, said the Ryan, Davis and O'Connor families were deeply grateful for the extraordinary solidarity shown to them.

"We would just like to say 'thank you' to the Irish Coastguard, to Baltimore RNLI, to the brave volunteers and especially all those divers as well as the Gardai and people of west Cork who were incredibly supportive throughout this entire trauma," Mr Ryan said.

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