Two workers drown in chilling tragedy as crane cage collapses into Shannon
TRIBUTES have been paid for the victims of a freak incident on the River Shannon yesterday in which two men lost their lives.
The men, who were stone masons from Co Clare and Co Kerry, had been standing in a cage platform while carrying out specialised remedial works on Thomond Bridge in Limerick City, when the platform plunged into the river around 3.45pm.
They have been named locally as Timothy "TJ" O'Herlihy, from Tullig, Castleisland, and Brian Whelan, from Broadford, near O'Brien's Bridge, Co Clare.
A cable attached to a crane that had been holding the cage with the men inside, snapped, sending the men and the platform into the river.
Mr O'Herlihy and Mr Whelan -- who were all wearing life jackets that were attached to the cage -- were found trapped two feet under the surface, by divers attached to Limerick Marine Search and Rescue Service (LMSRS) and Limerick City Fire Service.
A third man managed to free himself from his harness and was rescued floating along the river by LMSRS.
According to one of the divers involved in the emergency response, the two men failed to disconnect their life jackets from the cage and effectively became trapped under the water.
A photograph has emerged of men working in the cage at Thomond Bridge last week.
Paying tribute, Bobby O'Connell, a local publican and Fine Gael councillor in Castleisland said: "TJ was prayed for at mass this morning. Everyone knows at this stage but last night we didn't know it was one of our own. It's horrific."
"We all saw it on the television last night not knowing a member of our own community was involved. It's gone from sad to horrific here in Castleisland."
"TJ had a great interest in rugby, he loved all sports. He had spent some time working in Scotland and he has children. I heard it was his first day on the job," Mr O'Connell added.
Mr O'Herlihy's father, Timothy senior, is a well-known member of the Munster Rugby Junior Committee and a delegate with the All-Ireland Junior Committee, who co-runs a panel beating garage in Castleisland.
Fellow Munster Branch committee member John O'Brien, from Cork, said this afternoon: "I only heard it half an hour ago from one of my rugby friends. TJ had been working in Sweden, he was a stone mason."
"I got an awful shock when I heard, especially when you know the family and you know the way they died. It was a terrible way to die."
"I'll be phoning John later to pass on my sympathies," Mr O'Brien added.
According to sources Mr O'Herlihy, aged in his mid 30s, wasn't due to start work until Monday but got a call from his employer to start early.
"I heard he got an option of work in Dublin or Limerick, and unfortunately now, he went to Limerick. I suppose it was closer to home maybe," Cllr O'Connell added
Another source said: "He had been living in Stockholm with his wife or partner. She is still over in Sweden and he had come over here after getting a job working on the bridge."
Fr James Grace, PP, O'Brien's Bridge, Co Clare, who lives near Brian Whelan, said: "He was living just outside the parish in Broadford."
"It's a terrible tragedy for the area, for the man's family."
"I said prayers at mass this morning for him and his family. Everyone is shocked," he added.
Fr Dan O'Riordan, PP Castleisland, said prayers at mass this morning for Mr O'Herlihy and his family.
Gardai said post mortems are scheduled to be carried out this afternoon.
Tom Cusack, 33, his father Tony, 61 and Joe Morgan, 30, all specially trained divers with LMSRS, were first on the scene yesterday.
"When we arrived at the bridge the cage was submerged in the water," Tom Cusack said.
"We could see the two casualties clearly. They were submerged about two feet under the surface."
"The casualties were completely unresponsive," he added.
"All of us in the marine rescue service want to pass on our deepest sympathies to the families of the two men who died."
A statement issued on behalf of the men's employers at Irish Bridge, Ballyengland, Askeaton, Co Limerick, said: "Irish Bridge would like to offer its sincerest sympathies to the families of Brian and TJ following this terrible tragedy."
"It’s heart-breaking, our thoughts and prayers are with their families, relatives and friends at this very sad time."
"We would like to thank most sincerely the emergency service personnel for their professionalism."
"We will, of course, co-operate fully with all authorities examining the incident."
"The company will not be making any further comment at this point," the statement added.
Meanwhile, a source in the emergency services has slammed members of the public who they said stood and videoed the recovery of the victims from the river.
"It's been very upsetting for all of us. There were people actually videoing it all. They should be prosecuted," the source said.
"There were people trying to save these guys lives and other people were videoing it."
"It's appalling. It's very hard."
The cage wreckage was raised last night and Thomond Bridge was reopened after it was closed for several hours.
A spokesperson for Limerick City Council said the remedial works on Thomond Bridge would be postponed for the foreseeable future.
Investigations are been carried out by the Health and Safety Authority and the Gardai.