THREE tearful teenage girls gave graphic details to an inquest yesterday of the night they were trapped in a car that was rapidly filling with icy water after it plunged upside down into a river while they were being driven to a disco.
Rebecca Langan (14), from Currabaggan, Knockmore, Kate McLoughlin (14), from Cloghans, Ballina, and Carrie McAndrew (13), from Belgarrow, Foxford, -- all Co Mayo -- miraculously escaped the river plunge which occurred near their homes on December 9 last.
But their close friend Rachel Herbert (15) and her mother, Sandra Herbert (40), an employee of the Road Safety Authority (RSA) in Ballina, died.
All three survivors were in the rear seat of the Toyota Avensis car, which was driven by Mrs Herbert to a disco run by Foroige in Ardagh Community Centre, near Knockmore.
Kate McLoughlin told the inquest in Ballina that they were driving along at a normal speed when the car skidded and it seemed that Mrs Herbert "lost control of the steering and the car was moving over and back".
She continued: "I heard Sandra screaming. I remember going round and round like in a tumble drier. There was a big splash. I did not realise the car was on its roof in the river.
"Water started coming in. To me it looked like Sandra had fallen over on Rachel.
"I could see a light shining and I could see Sandra's face. She was under water and I was as well. I was pulling at her hair but could not move her."
With the light of a mobile phone, Kate McLoughlin managed to find a switch which unlocked the door and all three managed to escape.
Rebecca Langan said the three were in water up to their waists. They couldn't hear anything from Sandra or Rachel.
Evidence was given by local rescuers that both women were dead when taken from the upturned vehicle.
Rescuer Ian Kelly, a garda who lives locally, said the road where the tragedy took place was "a notorious frost pocket".
After skidding, the car dropped 10 feet upside down into 57 centimetres of water.
Garda Inspector Joe Doherty said both air and ground temperatures were below zero.
Pathologist Dr Fadel Bennani, who carried out post mortems, said there were no injuries to either body and the cause of death in both cases was asphyxia due to drowning.
An inquest jury returned a verdict of accidental deaths, with icy roads a contributory factor.