Monday 19 February 2018

Five members of extended family, including two young brothers, identified as victims of Buncrana pier tragedy

Evan, Mark and baby Rioghnach
Evan, Mark and baby Rioghnach
Dad Sean (back left), mum Louise (back right) holding baby Rioghnach. Bottom left is Evan and bottom Right is Mark.

Greg Harkin, Cathal McMahon and Denise Calnan

THE five people - two adults, a teenage girl and two young brothers - who died when the SUV they were in slipped off a pier last night have been identified as members of an extended family.

Sean McGrotty (46), his sons Mark (12) and Evan (8), his mother-in-law Ruth Daniels (57) and her 15-year-old daughter Jodie Lee, all died after the Audi car slid off the Co Donegal pier.

Buncrana pier tragedy victim, Jodie Lee Daniels (15)
Buncrana pier tragedy victim, Jodie Lee Daniels (15)
Buncrana pier tragedy victim, Ruth Daniels

It is understood that Mr McGrotty’s partner and the dead boys’ mother, Louise, was away on a hen party in England for the weekend. She has also lost her mother and sister in the devastating tragedy.

Her four-month-old daughter Rioghnach survived after she was rescued from the water by a man who jumped in.

The baby is in a stable condition in hospital. It is understood she was passed out of the window of the car by her dad as the car was in the water.

All of those who died were from Derry.

Francis Crawford at the scene of the tragedy in Buncrana
Francis Crawford at the scene of the tragedy in Buncrana
The scene at Buncrana this morning
Francis Crawford at the scene of the tragedy in Buncrana
Scene of the tragedy in Buncrana
Scene of the tragedy in Buncrana
Scene of the tragedy in Buncrana
Scene of the tragedy in Buncrana

The early indications are that the vehicle slipped on algae as it turned on the pier, and went into the water.

Pensioner Francis Crawford this morning told how the tragedy unfolded before his eyes.

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

"The whole thing was heart rendering." he said. "You could hear goings on in the car but it was just the driver shouting to me. The wee baby was rescued at that time.

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

"It was all over then. You hoped that when the rescue services came there would be a pocket of air in the car. I could see that some people had got out of the car, I could see them in the water."

He explained that he had travelled down with his wife shortly before 7.30pm on Sunday.

He said that he turned on the ramp that the car was on but didn't go near the bottom because he knew it to be "slippery as ice, because of the green algae".

The slipway is used for the Buncrana to Rathmullan ferry service which operates during the summer.

"It would appear to me that  the car slipped off," Mr Crawford said. "The man... was from Derry and may not have been familiar with the ramp and sort of slipped in to the water."

Six people - two adults and four children, including the baby - were in the Northern Ireland-registered Audi Q7 vehicle when it went into the water.

The RNLI said the vehicle sank in about 3.5 metres of water.

Those who died are believed to be from the Creggan, Galliagh and Ballymagroarty areas of Derry.

"The car started to bobble about," Mr Crawford said.

"It happened not long before I came. I said to my wife, 'if those people don't get back in they are not going to get a grip on the concrete'.

"I went down and asked 'are you alright'? He said 'phone the coastguard, phone the coastguard'

"I dialled 999 and the coastguard and told them that there is a terrible situation developing in Buncrana. I told them: 'There is a car and a family in the water and he was going to sink'."

Read more: Watch: 'He could hardly hold the baby, he was that exhausted' - Witness describes 'harrowing' scene at Buncrana pier tragedy

Mr Crawford explained that the emergency services arrived in minutes but it was too late.

"Everybody was there in a very short time but there was nothing they could do at that stage," Mr Crawford said.

The pensioner said that there was a local man on the pier from a neighbouring parish.

"I asked him if he could go in. He stripped off to his underwear and headed out in very cold conditions, the car was well out at this stage.

"He came back in, he was totally exhausted. I don't think he could have gone another five yards in the water. He had the wee baby with him.

"He was shouting 'take the baby, take the baby'. He could hardly hold the baby, he was that exhausted."

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

The heroic man has been identified as Davitt Walsh from Kerrykeel in Donegal. 

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."

Witness Mr Crawford continued: "At that stage the car was still bobbling."

"I was hoping against hope, knowing everybody was coming, that this would stay afloat. All of a sudden the lot just went under the water."

Mr Crawford explained that there were very few on the pier at the time. He said that it took a while for it to register with people just what was unfolding.

"The ambulance service came and took them in and gave them mouth to mouth but there was no hope, nothing was going to happen at that stage. Too long had passed.

"The car was under too long for anything positive to happen."

The Coast Guard 118 Rescue helicopter, RNLI lifeboat crews from Lough Swilly and Greencastle, ambulance crews and gardaí all took part in the search and rescue operation.

But by 9pm it was clear that there were no other survivors.

Read more: Buncrana tragedy: Baby rescued after she was 'thrown from car' as family die in pier tragedy

A garda superintendent has described the deaths of five members of the one family as a "terrible tragedy".

Supt Colm Nevin said it was one of the biggest incidents they have dealt with in North Donegal for a long, long time.

Speaking at the scene in Buncrana pier, Supt Nevin said they received a call at Buncrana garda station at 7pm yesterday evening telling them that a vehicle had entered the water.

"The emergency services attended very quickly to the scene. We were also told there were a number of occupants in the vehicle at the time.

"A bystander who was standing by rescued a four-month old baby from the vehicle and that baby is now in Letterkenny hospital doing very well.

"The vehicle has been recovered. It was an Audi Q 7. There was five occupants in the vehicle  and they were recovered by local divers."

He said they have identified the deceased and informed their families overnight. Supt Nevin confirmed two adults - one male and one female - and three children - two male and one female - died in the incident.

Gardai were assisted at the scene by other emergency services, the RNLI, the local fire brigade, the HSE, local divers and also the local helicopter.

"We are treating this as a very tragic incident."

Supt Nevin said a number of witnesses have come forward and appealed for others to contact them in Buncrana station on 0749320540

Read more: Local parish priest: ‘This will rock the local community’ 'It was obvious a horrible tragedy was unfolding' - former local TD 

He praised a Donegal man who risked  his own life to rescue the four-month old baby.

"I would like to thank the public who came to the assistance of these people last night in their time in distress, particularly the local person who took the baby from the vehicle.

"No doubt about it, he displayed exceptional bravery.

Asked to described the incident the garda superintendent said: "It's a terrible tragedy it is one of the biggest ones we have experienced here in north Donegal for a long long time."

Meanwhile, RNLI John McArthur Operations Manager said the volunteer rescue team are already undergoing counselling sessions today.

"Our team go into automatic pilot and their training kicks in and they do what they have to do," Mr McArthur said of his team.

"We offer our volunteers support and counselling which is already ongoing today.

"We do what we can and we try and help them and support them at this time after what they have witnessed and been a part of.

"We will continue to do that for as long as necessary. Our hearts go out to the families who are trying to come to terms with this huge loss. "We can only begin to think about what they're going through," he added.  

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