'Gerry was the happiest guy I know' - Friend of one of Irish workers killed in Perth construction accident
The heartbroken families of Joe McDermott from Omagh and Gerry Bradley from Coleraine who were killed in a building site accident in Australia have spoken of their devastation.
The men were killed when a concrete slab fell on a building site in east Perth where the pair were working.
Joe McDermott, 24, had moved to the western Australian city just weeks ago to start a new adventure.
His grieving parents, Tommy and Donna, and sister Lauren were being comforted by family and friends at their home in Omagh last night.
In a loving tribute, his family said: “We are devastated by Joe’s death. We will always remember him as the bright and bubbly young man that he was.
“We are so proud of our son, who was so well-known and popular. He was so selfless and touched so many lives. "
The brother of 27-year-old Gerry Bradley paid tribute to his “happy, friendly” sibling.
Speaking from the family home in Portstewart, Gregory said: “He would be one of the few people I don’t know anyone who had a bad word to say about him. We can’t believe what has happened. He enjoyed life”.
And Gerry's friend John, who lived in Perth with him, described him as "the happiest guy" he knows.
"Gerry was my friend from school and my home as well. Gerry was the happiest guy I know – all his friends and family at home, the support that’s given, just shows you how nice a guy he was."
"We became really close over the past few months... I've been here two and a half years, Gerard came out two years ago."
“I’d like to get back for the funerals and say my goodbyes.”
“There’s a bunch of friends here and we’re all together. One of Gerard’s aunties flew up from Tasmania today and has been a great help."
John thanked the Claddagh Assocation, a charity which hs assisted Irish people during times of crisis and trauma since 1997 throughout Western Australia.
"The Claddagh organisation have been great."
"They deal with all the stuff you have to deal with... just picking up all the pieces. They’re the people who taught us what to do and took care of everything."
He added: “Thank you very much to everyone at home for all the messages of support, they’ve been a great help."
Western Australia Police responded to a report that two men were "trapped under a large piece of concrete" at the site at an apartment complex in East Perth.
The incident happened at around 11.30am Australian time (3.30am Irish time).
The building site has been closed while a health and safety investigation is carried out.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation quoted one witness, Travis, who said the slab appeared to have fallen off a delivery truck while it was being unloaded.
He said he tried to help lift the panel.
"All I was thinking of was to just get the slab off him, so a whole bunch of workers jumped on one side of the slab, because it was sort of sitting on another slab, like a concrete barrier.
"A whole bunch of guys jumped on that side while a few of us lifted the other side ... so it was a couple of inches off them."
It is understood Joe McDermott was a former pupil at Sacred Heart College in Omagh and Gerry Bradley was a former pupil of St Joseph engineering college.
Local media reported that one of the men was just days away from returning to Northern Ireland for Christmas.
ABC news journalist Laura Gartry, who reported from the scene, told the BBC: "From what we can understand from talking to witnesses and what the police have said, a large concrete slab of about 10 by 15 metres was being lifted by a crane off a delivery truck.
"It hadn't got very far off the ground when it fell on two construction workers.
"A witness I spoke to who lives nearby had heard a large crash and came running out to find the two men under the slab - he then helped other workers to try to get the slab up, using wooden planks, but we understand that both men had died by the time police arrived.
"The construction union here has been very vocal and want to do their own independent inquiry into how such a tragic accident could happen."
Jaxon Construction who were carrying out the work on the apartment complex released a statement expressing their "heartfelt thoughts and condolences" to the families, loved ones and colleagues of the victims.
It read: "Our heartfelt thoughts and condolences go out to the families, loved ones and colleagues of the two men involved in this tragic accident.
"Counselling support has been offered to all 52 employees and contractors who were on site today and also to JAXON’s wider workforce.
"JAXON has been in operation since 1958, and in 57 years had never experienced a fatality.
"Our workforce is grieving and our focus is on supporting the families and those affected. As a mark of respect, and to fully support our employees, all JAXON sites will be closed tomorrow.
"Safety is our highest priority. The accident is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the relevant Authorities and it would be premature to speculate or pre-empt the findings of the investigation.
"We are co-operating fully with The Coroner’s office and WorkSafe and will make further announcements as and when additional information becomes available."
Tributes to Joe McDermott
Tributes have been pouring in to social media for the young men with many friends stating their shock and disbelief at what has happened.
Zara Elkin paid tribute to her friend Joe saying: "You will be missed by so many people in our community, a real gentlemen and a friend to everyone that knew you.
"Omagh has lost a true legend and the life and soul of a party. Too young too soon.
Sinn Fein councillor Sorcha McAnespie told the BBC: "He hasn't been in Australia for long - it was only a month ago when he left. Whatever help we as a community can do, we will - that's what we do best."
Joe was a former employee at Silverbirch Hotel and Tipplers bar - posting on Facebook the management and staff offered their condolences to his family.
It said: "The Management and Staff of Tipplers would like to offer our sincere condolences to the Mc Dermott family at the untimely death of Joseph (Hoss). Not only was he a colleague, he was a friend.
"To his many friends our thoughts and prayers are with you all. R.I.P. Hoss."
Matt Mathers, a friend of Mr McDermott, told BBC Radio Ulster he had known him since they were children.
"I know it's kind of a standard thing to say when someone passes away that they were loved by everyone, but I think on this occasion it really rings true," he said.
"He was such a happy-go-lucky sort of character, and growing up Joe would always have been the kind of reserved one, kind of home bird.
"For this to happen, it's tragic really for him to take that big step and move out to Australia and make a life for himself out there and for it be cut short in tragic circumstances, it's difficult to take."
Tributes to Gerry Bradley
A friend of Gerry, Chris Hughes, told the Belfast Telegraph that they are struggling to come to terms with what has happened.
Another friend is currently in Australia and was due to meet Gerry in the morning.
He said: "I grew up with him. There was a group of lads from Portrush and we grew up playing golf and football.
"He was a very funny guy. He was a good golfer, he was passionate about football, a real funny guy.
"No one can really absorb it in. His friend Michael Logan is out in Australia and was to meet him at the airport tomorrow."
SDLP MLA for East Derry John Dallat expressed his sympathies with the families and friends of Mr Bradley from Portstewart and his friend from Omagh.
He said: “Gerard and his friend were examples of the thousands of young people who have gone to Australia in recent years to seek employment and gain experience of working life.
"I personally know Gerard was loved and respected not only by his own generation but by everyone who came into contact with him.
“He has many relatives and friends throughout the Coleraine area and our deepest sympathy goes to his parents and family who are in shock that such a popular young man and his colleague should lose their young lives, so far from home and in such a tragic way.
“I have no doubt that Irish people in Australia and here at home will rally to the families and give them the love and care they need to deal with this dreadful news so close to Christmas and I join with them at this time in offering prayer and support in any way possible.”
A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said it was "aware of the case and stands ready to provide consular assistance".
It comes on the same day when another man died in a separate incident after falling off a worksite at the Naval Base in Perth.
A $20 million, 11-storey apartment complex is being built on the site by Jaxon Construction for Foundation Housing.